One topic that has received more attention of late is the idea of “generational differences” and how they might impact on future travel patterns. As many of our regular readers will know, there is considerable evidence emerging that shows some fairly stark differences in the transport and land use preferences of older and younger generations.
For those who have missed these earlier posts, they have considered:
- Declining per capita demand for vehicle travel and lower levels of vehicle ownership;
- Why fewer people are choosing to get their drivers’ licenses; and
- Increased use of public transport, walking, and cycling.
Altogether it seems fair to say that young people these days just aren’t as attached to cars as much as much as their parents. As this article observes, the generational differences are evident in a number of countries, including the Japan, the U.S., and Australia – so this is a global phenomenon.
If we take the existence of these generational differences as given (and I think the evidence is sufficiently strong now that we can), then it raises some important questions about how we make transport and land use decisions. In my mind, the presence of generational differences means that the people who are making decisions need to think about a whole lot more than just their own experiences and preferences.
But the presence of generational differences may require more serous responses than simply trying to “project” beyond one’s own situation, which professionals and elected representatives should be doing anyway. The reason it’s more serious is that:
- The post-WWII baby boom means that older demographics are significantly over-represented. Hence they punch above their weight in terms of decision-making authority and political representation; but
- Ongoing internationalisation means that young people nowadays are more mobile than ever. So if young people don’t get what they want from Auckland, then they may almost as readily go live in cities like Amsterdam and Istanbul.
What these two factors mean, I think, is that if baby boomers abuse their demographic power (which they already are to some extent), then they risk alienating younger generations to the point where the latter simply leave New Zealand. I think this kind of “demographic purge” is a real risk, and may have already begun.
And the risk is particularly pertinent to the topics discussed on this blog because land use and transport decisions tend to be very long-lasting: The buildings and projects that we invest in now are likely to still be around in 50 years time. Thus the decisions we make now will impact on people who probably can’t even talk yet, let alone vote.
From where I’m sitting this hints at a need for society to investigate the causes of generational differences in our transport and land use preferences. At the same time, we need to think about their implications for the transport and land use decisions that we make – decisions that are, to be frank, mainly being made by older people who won’t be around when the impacts of their decisions are borne out.
At this stage I simply want to highlight the issue, rather than necessarily present solutions. Even so, from where I’m sitting it seems clear that both older and younger generations need to step up and acknowledge some respective responsibilities. In particular:
- Older generations – you occupy positions of power due to your experience. But the decisions you make have little bearing on your own life. For this reason, I would encourage you to make decisions not based on the world you want, but the world you think your grandchildren will want. The best way to gain insight into this is, I think, to talk and listen to young people.
- Younger generation – you are demographically outweighed. For this reason, each of you becomes relatively more important – so speak up! Where necessary you may have to challenge some deeply held perceptions, e.g. that everyone will always want a car. But being passive will simply mean you inherit a city designed for middle aged baby boomers, and I’m not sure that’s a city you want to live in.
But that’s all I want to say right now – because this post is really just posing the question: What should we do about generational differences in transport and land use preferences?