Thursday, August 27, 2009

If we could all be Norwegian

The United Nations issues an annual report listing the best places in the world to live. Iceland recently topped the rankings, displacing Norway, which held the honor for a number of years. Norway slipped to second.

The U.S., by the way, was down at 12th.

I visited the Norwegian cities of Oslo and Bergen many years ago on a post high school trip sponsored by the Reader's Digest Foreign Study League. For six weeks, our brave band of high-schoolers from Bell Gardens, California toured Europe, with stops in Madrid, London, Paris, Bergen, Oslo, Stockholm and Berlin.

What struck me about Oslo and Bergen was the lack of automobiles on the road. My research tells me that even today, many years later, Norwegian governments impose a 25 percent Value Added Tax to automobile purchases.

I believe the tax was even higher when I toured as a young man, keeping the number of vehicles to minimum.

The UN study looks at education, average earnings and other social measurements to determine what constitutes the best places to live. But from personal experience, there is something to be said for living in a place where vehicle ownership is discouraged.

I say that as one who was born and raised in Los Angeles, the automobile-loving city of the ever-present freeway. Cars rule in L.A. and alternate forms of transportation have only recently been given a second thought.

Iceland and Norway may be a bit on the cold side come winter, but traffic is not the problem many of us have to deal with on a daily basis.

David Fierro is a transportation public relations consultant. He is a former newspaper and magazine editor and worked for both the Florida and Virginia departments of transportation. He resides in Sanford, Florida.

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