By Dom Nozzi
May 17, 2002
Americans have grown up to believe in the desirability of The American Dream. How it is so desirable that living in America is believed by people around the world to be the best place to enjoy the highest quality of life.
But when it comes to quality of life, there is a fundamental, crucial difference between America and Europe. In America, we seek quality of life by working long, stressful hours in a high-paying job. We then purchase a lot of “stuff,” such as luxury homes (“McMansions”) and luxury cars filled with high-tech gadgets.
Yet we spend enormous amounts of time in our shiny metal boxes — our expensive BMWs and SUVs — stuck in traffic congestion on our gold-plated highways as we angrily battle with our fellow citizens to rush back to our remote, sprawlsville homes after a long day at the office, where we collapse in our moated, cul-de-sac’d cocoons.
By striking contrast, the public realm in America — the streets, the sidewalks, the spaces between buildings, the public parks — are the most miserable and empty in the developed world.
What I found in Europe on a recent (and first) visit is starkly different.
The inside of homes and hotels are mediocre at best. People have “siestas” during the workday. The European car is quite modest in size and interior gadgets.
Yet the public realm in Europe — available to all, regardless of economic status or ranking — is stupendous, lively, sociable, picturesque, romantic, and memorable. The streets, sidewalks, and squares are very quaint and human-scaled. You feel wonderfully alive as you walk amongst the large number of friendly residents who are happily outside enjoying their compact, walkable community — a community surrounded by forests and farms, instead of sprawling residential subdivisions and Big Box retail strips.
The citizens of European cities enjoy interaction with their community and their fellow citizens, instead of being isolated and cooped up with expensive entertainment equipment inside luxury homes. They enjoy longer, more relaxed, more fun, and more enjoyable breakfasts, lunches and dinners at their countless outdoor cafes that are found throughout their cities.
When it comes to quality of life, the Europeans do it right. The standard of living in America may be higher.
But the quality of life in Europe is unmatched.