The problem with how we live
This weekend, the Flemish newspaper De Standaard published an interesting piece (in Dutch) on how our building rage has destroyed free space in Belgium. The fascinating aspect of the article is that it shows how this happened in a short period of time. The article has some interesting interactive applications that compare the situation from 1971 with today. Quite shocking to see how we have completely “filled” Belgium with houses in less than half a century.
As I argue in my new book, De Wereld Is Rond, the way we live today, our housing and mobility, how we work and study, are all recent developments. In just 75 years, we have evolved away from a pre-WO2 world - that did not fundamentally change for many centuries - to the world we live in today. I describe how we are struggling with perfect storms that are happening in work, living and mobility. These domains in society interact and enforce each other, creating a Metastorm of change. They make the strategic challenges we are facing even more significant, but if we start to look at them in an interconnected way, they also might hold the key for real and pragmatic solutions. Oh, did I already mention: my book is an optimistic approach towards the future.
The authors of the article in De Standaard and the people they interview come to the same conclusions as I do in my book: we have created a linear way of living that is the exponent of our recent emancipation and evolution. In the modern post-WO2 world, the opportunities were endless but not necessarily available in the place where we were born: higher education, good jobs, the best shops or great entertainment, it all became available to most people. To access these possibilities, we started moving around in an unprecedented way. Together with very targeted policy, this resulted in what I call in my book linear living: everyone in their own house, with a large private garden and room for a pony (joke), and all of this shattered across the available landscape. As a result, we have physically disconnected the key functions in our lives: we don’t work where we live, we put our kids in school somewhere else, and our shopping or leisure activities happen in yet another place. To make this possible we need one, two or even three cars per household to drive from one function to the other.
We are now starting to realize that this way of living is not sustainable: the cost for society and people is increasing, the personal impact (e.g. time lost in traffic) is growing, the effect on climate change and health is huge, we are segregating as a society, etc..
So what should we do? We can not easily reverse the situation what makes that no one seems to have the guts to address these issues in the short term. In my book, I describe a possible way out. It requires a transversal approach that looks at the future of work, manufacturing, farming, living, mobility and so many other things. It seems like a mission impossible to intertwine them all, but once you get convinced that this is a plausible scenario, you start to see that the necessary actions are already being taken, but not in a consistent and planned way. The world is already changing, we just do not see it.
If you are intrigued by this vision, I want to refer to my book in which I try to explain why we are feeling bad about the future, why this is not necessary and how we can create an optimistic world vision that allows us to plan for a good future.