It's not sexy, but streamlined government might just spice up our lives
My dad turned 93 this week just as a story broke about the Greek island of Ikaria, where people commonly live to well over 100. Our social researcher Louise wonders why anyone would want to get that old if you start to wrinkle from the age of 60. Modern science may well fix that sooner rather than later, but the story of my dad and the Greek island has many similarities.
Dad grew up in sawmilling settlements in the 1920s and '30s where there were only about a dozen houses near the tree-felling areas way up in the mountains. The pub and grocery store were a half-day drive so you ate what you could hunt, gather and grow. The vegetable garden was a masterpiece of fresh produce all year round and the fruit trees provided fresh snacks and marvellous preserves thanks to Fowlers Vacola Bottling. Most nights it only took 10 minutes to get a feed of rainbow trout.
"Sounds like paradise," Charlie says. Compared to the modern life, it probably was. There was no electricity up in the hills but wood fires worked well and kerosene lamps and refrigerators did their job. And it seems that things are still much the same in Ikaria. There are no roads, so people walk everywhere. It's hilly, too, so the heart rate goes up as villagers carry everything they need on foot. The biggest difference seems to be the modest daily tipple of retsina.
But just like my father's little town, everyone knows everyone and supports each other, especially the elderly, who not only regularly live to the ripe old age of 100 but are well known for engagement in conjugal rights well into their 90s. "Why don't you just say what you mean?" chirps up Louise. "They're having sex until they knock off for good."
But the world has changed dramatically in most other places, as I found out at a conference last week. We will soon have 9 billion people on the planet and 70 per cent of them will be living in cities that are a far cry from a healthy country lifestyle.
Traditionally a little country village could run its local services itself, leaving the faraway national government to organise the currency, the military and anything else that was too big for just locals to handle.
But now some of the villages have grown like Topsy and there's a good argument we jumped from the village to metropolis too quickly for our governments to adapt.
Our three levels of government are struggling. The federal government is remaking itself in Canberra department by department. In each of the states, governments are coming to grips with the fact they don't have enough money for roads, hospitals and schools, while cities are wrestling with having 70 per cent of the major problems of urban life but little responsibility and control.
In Australia we have 565 mayors and 6600 councillors, many of whom think that the main game is picking up the bins - and even that's a mess. And there have been headlines galore over the years about councillors getting themselves into trouble with dodgy deals and infighting.
We need all levels of government to lift their game if we are going to have healthy, supportive communities where people can live to an active, ripe old age like my dad and the people of Ikaria.
I reckon we need to lose one whole level of government through a new distribution of powers and responsibilities between the federal government and a regional model that makes the most of the great local leadership talents we have.
It can work. Look at what Michael Bloomfield did in New York, and the fiery Boris Johnson as mayor of London and in Melbourne the outstanding Robert Doyle.
We need to be able to streamline our governments so that everyone has their best chance to live active, fruitful lives.
Sex and the City doesn't have to be just a successful TV show about modern life.