Europe’s a great place to visit . . .

. . . but I wouldn’t want to live there

Europe’s a great place to visit . . . FREE to subscribers

TORONTO, ON, Mar 25, 2015/ Troy Media/ – I finally understand what Americans mean when they say “We don’t want to become Europe.” There’s the socialism, of course. The European Union has rules on everything, and Americans don’t like government rules, even if the bread, cheese, wine and other food and drink is a lot better in Europe.

But who wouldn’t we want European style transit – high speed rail, great urban transit, airports which connect up to bus lines and subways, and cheap airfare. Why wouldn’t we want the little squares, walking and talking places, galleries, museums and shops of Europe?

Living spaces in Europe small

Europe has us beat on many levels.

But, then I lived for a very brief time in London and Paris.

I stayed in a council flat (public housing) that had been privatized during Margaret Thatcher’s time. The different between the rental version and the one that was bought for a million bucks was apparently the exact mix of cigarette smoke, marijuana and urine in the lobby and hallways. I had it explained to me but then put it out of my mind.

Europe
A London flat is a tight squeeze

I stayed with very successful young people – a teacher, journalist and an employee of a Big Four accounting firm. Although the young people were in their late 20s, they were living a more tenuous housing existence than I remember as a student in my teens. The landlord kept three tenants in the flat at all times.

When one moved out, another showed up with little or no introduction.

“Bob’s the new guy and living on the main floor” would be the perfunctory comment one dinner.

The flat was large, solid and on two floors. There was a large communal living/dining room. The kitchen featured small European appliances and one of those combination washer/dryers that doesn’t do much of either. It worked on my permanent press chinos and shirts, but “Bob” burnt his shirts on the day I left by leaving the dryer cycle on too long.

The flat was quiet. They make floors out of concrete in a lot of Europe and then cover them with hardwood. Whatever the construction, it did the trick.

The flat was also convenient – a block or two from Regent’s Park, tube stops and little grocery stores.

These successful people’s living conditions were fun for a couple of weeks, but

not for long. How are they to have a life? If one marries the other and they downsize to a one or two bedroom, maybe. Otherwise it’s either a long commute by train or Bob and his burning shirts.

On to Paris in the Chunnel.

My Metro station was Republic in le Marais district. The flat was six floors up, like so many others in Houseman’s redeveloped Paris. I didn’t have to walk all the way up because someone had retrofitted a little, European elevator. It was nestled in the middle of the circular stair. I could just get in with my bag, but I didn’t get in with another person for fear we’d never get out.

Europeans live out on the street more

The flat was about 400 square feet and worth only half what the London flat was. It seemed to have the same washer/dryer that didn’t work, a bar fridge, two burners and a balcony big enough to look out onto, but not step onto. A person could go mad in this small space. That’s why Europeans live on the street more – in cafes, restaurants, bars and parks. Many are enjoying their city because they can’t enjoy their lodgings.

So, Europe has a lot of good qualities, especially if you’re a tourist or rich. For the average person, perhaps Americans have a point.

Dr. Allan Bonner has consulted on some of the major planning and public policy issues of our times on five continents for 25 years. He loves cities and his latest book will be titled Safe Cities.

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