Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Live to Walk

With the Monday that was being the first day of the new school year, one cannot avoid school related reflections: Reflections on the trains being full with kids once again, reflections on the government policy of starting to ranking schools and publish the league tables over the web (here), and reflections on me becoming the father of a schoolchild in a matter of a few years.
To celebrate the occasion, The Age has published an opinion article urging parents to walk their kids to school instead of driving them there. In particular, it stated claims I tend to fully agree with: First the claim that these habits will stay with the child as they grow, and then the claim that walking together time is actually prime time quality time. But still, how realistic can walking your child to school can be?
Let us assume that you only have one child requiring walking to school as opposed to several requiring walking to multiple schools. Let us also assume school is within a ten minute walk (in our case it would probably be slightly longer). Now do the maths: Walking your child to school would take you forty (40!) minutes a day, for the simple fact you visit school twice each day and you also need to walk back home (assuming you need to take the car to work, as the majority of people do). Now look at the other side of the equation: in between walking your child to school in the morning and escorting them back in the evening, you need to stick an eight hour working day (preferably with a lunch break, too). And don't forget that overtime your manager presses you to do and on which the fate of your team so badly depends!
How can anyone be expected to achieve that? Or rather, what planet are the people writing the opinion articles for The Age living on?

I was actually thinking of the distance between the way we all like to live and the way real life forces us to live as I was waiting for a train yesterday morning. And then the train arrived: a forty year old Hitachi train. The ride was shaky, noisy, and lacked air-conditioning on an otherwise atypically warm Melbourne morning (that is, as atypical as any extreme heat can be under global warming conditions). I don’t think I, nor any of my train compatriots, enjoyed the ride.
Then we arrived at Melbourne’s Flinders Street Station, Melbourne’s main train station. The escalators at our platform didn’t work (they weren’t working the night before, either), so we were all forced to use the stairs. Not that there’s anything wrong with using the stairs; I prefer to using them anyway. It’s just that the stairs lacked the capacity to efficiently deal with the thousand or so people disembarking a morning train by itself. We all stood there for several long minutes, gazing at the lucky few who managed to cram themselves up the stairway.

It seems obvious to me that all this talk about liveability is nothing more than lip service. Our society and our culture all aim us to get to work and to do what it is we need to do at work to make our place of work as productive as it can be, but they don’t care much about the peripherals. No one cares how you manage to deal with life before and after work.
School? That’s more like a sophisticated babysitting service. Dump your kids there and go to work, quickly.
Public transport? Who cares. The cattle train will get you to your office just the same.
And Melbourne actually has a claim to being called the world’s most liveable city. What a joke! Without deep cultural change where we rid ourselves of that money god we seem to be worshipping so vehemently, liveability will always be just a euphemism.

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