For Dublin the only way is up

Work Life Balance is a concept that is just now making its way on to the agenda. Last March 1st was Work Life Balance day, when you were supposed to weigh up whether you work-to-live or live-to-work.

The day came and went without changing the world but the radio ads probably surprised a lot of people. Such considerations are not considered kosher in the rat-race we now live in.

But the problem is real, especially for young people in their 20s who have bought a house and might be contemplating having a few kids. The reality is that if they decide to have kids then they might as well face up to the fact that they are not going to see a lot of them.

Young couples are mortgaged to the hilt. They need to work to pay for the house and for the childminding. Many will have bought houses in Drogheda, Navan, Naas or Greystones because they are cheaper than Dublin houses. And now they are commuting up to four hours a day.

I don’t have any figures but this must be killing relationships. Away from the house for 10 to 12 hours a day; away from the kids; away from their partners; and living like a stranger in the communities they have moved in to – this is a recipe for disaster.

The way the world works, nothing is going to be done about this until it starts to have a negative economic impact.

Fed up with the stress and the hassle, many women (and not a few men), are giving up full-time work. After sitting down with a blank piece of paper, a lot of professionals are realising that when they subtract the cost of childcare and travel from their salaries, and add the time spent travelling, they are earning perilously close to the minimum wage for their work.

There’s going to be a boom (a different boom) in Drogheda, Navan, Naas or Greystones when employers start realising that they will have to commute to these labour pools in order to get people to work.

In the meantime, there will have to be a radical change in attitude in Ireland to urban living. The problem is that most Dubs are only a generation or two from being culchies and there remains a demented desire to own and live next to your own patch of green grass. It’s probably a throwback to the days of the famine and the landlords.

Whatever the cause, it has caused Dublin’s terrible sprawl as everyone wants a front and back garden. The trade-off to owning your own little kingdom is that every aspect of life becomes car-borne. Schools, sports, shops, church, work are all far too far away for people to walk to. And because people are spread all over the place, it is very difficult to build a comprehensive public transport system.

The alternative is obvious. We have got to start living in more densely populated areas. We have got to start building up rather than out.

The latest plans from the City Council are very welcome – the 32 storey skyscraper at Heuston Station should set the scene.

A more urbanised area means closer schools, closer services, closer work. It means more time with the kids and more time in the community that you live in. A better work life balance.