When it comes to city living, you can’t always get what you want. The city’s high-density Plan It passed in reduced form — we’ll still build more suburbs, they will still be subsidized by the taxpayer. An expensive decision was taken, now we are left to ponder: Could Plan It’s live-closer idea make us happier?
I pored over a range of “happiness” studies. There’s one thing for sure — commuting snatches away happiness.
The longer the commute, the unhappier you are, and the unhappier your family is.
It takes a lot of money — 18 per cent more for every 23 minutes of commute time — to keep the commute from eroding your satisfaction, say Swiss economists Alois Stutzer and Bruno S. Frey. For an hour-long commute, you need to earn 40 per cent more than the average salary to outdo the negative effect of the commute.
Calgary is expected to continue grow. The threat is longer commutes. Take public transit and you’re 41 minutes slower than travelling by car. Pick up kids from daycare? You’ve added another 21 minutes.
When StatsCan last looked at commute times, Calgary had the biggest jump. In 2005, 57 per cent of workers spent an hour or more getting to and from their workplace, compared to only 36 per cent in 1992.
From my spot inching along Macleod Trail, I think it’s fair to say we’re spending even more time on the road.
Here’s the paradox. Other studies show people report lower satisfaction with homes in congested areas, so they’re willing to commute longer. This is why developers have a case.
We’re not sure we want to live small in the polluted downtown, where cars race over your neighbourhood like ants on a hill.
So can city planning make us happier? It depends how much you love that house and that quiet street. The city didn’t promote enough protection from traffic, or to sell Plan It in terms of better, socially happy communities.
So, maybe you can’t avoid the commute, or afford to live close to work.
Fear not. Marry the right person and it will have the happiness effect of quadrupling your salary, cite UBC’s John Helliwell and Harvard’s Robert Putnam. Not married? Attending church and volunteering in your community equals doubling your salary.
Commuting reduces your ability to have these social links, though. Just like Plan It, we need to make the best compromise to get some satisfaction.