I have been thinking recently about the concept of wants versus needs - not in a personal sense, but rather in a community sense. This is something I have given a great deal of thought to, actually, because the reality is that my want could be your need, and vice versa.
It is difficult to balance needs and wants, to be certain. I face this every day with the teenaged Intrepid Junior Blogger, when the things she sees as “needs” are things I would categorize as “wants”. And yet how she must feel the same way at times, thinking my “needs” are mere “wants” in her world. What you “want” and “need” is often based on perspective, not on some objective framework, and often a well-crafted argument can make a “want” into a “need”. There are some things, though, that seem like illogical, perhaps even ridiculous, “wants” that later become viewed as a “need”.
What I also keep coming back to in my thoughts is that things that were once considered “wants”, and perhaps illogical ones, are the very things that often become the most iconic things in the world. We could start right here in Canada, say with the CN Tower in Toronto. Was this a “need” for Toronto? A giant tower, when built the tallest in the world, looming over the downtown landscape? Of course it was not a “need”, and yet over time it has become a symbol for the city, and a draw for millions of tourists in the years since it opened. I imagine many laughed at the folly of building this tower, and yet now it has become the landmark depicted in almost every postcard from that city.We could look further afield, too, at things like the Eiffel Tower. I can only imagine what the people of Paris thought when this plan was revealed – and in fact public reaction meant the Eiffel was almost never built. And yet now, almost 125 years after it was built, can you think of a more iconic structure anywhere in the world?
Look, I realize in this community we are talking about arenas, not towers, and riverside developments, and civic centres. I know that many of the structures under discussion are not of the same kind of “tourist attraction” status as the Eiffel and the CN Tower – but they are even better, as they are utilitarian in nature, and not meant to simply be showpieces. An arena will become the place for concerts, sporting events, trade shows, and more. A civic centre becomes the new central point for urbanites, and a place from which our municipal government runs. A revitalized riverside becomes the focal point for families and all those seeking a beautiful public space. And yes, even a bridge from downtown to MacDonald Island becomes the link that joins the downtown with the central point for recreation and sport.There is no reason to begin to start to divide these things into wants versus needs, especially since that is purely a subjective, not objective, view. This isn’t a discussion about whether or not we should have an aging in place facility OR a revitalized riverside (a riverside likely to be utilized by the very seniors living in an aging in place facility, just as my parents used the lovely riverfront property in Saskatoon for their leisurely walks and coffee meetings). The reality is that perhaps we both need and want all these things, and that turning it into an either/or debate simply creates divisiveness where none needs to exist.
There is no doubt this community is woefully behind on infrastructure development. How did we end up here, though? I think it is because we thought too small, and focused only on what we perceived as immediate “needs”, thinking that the things we deemed as “wants” were not important enough to fund or build. How quickly those “wants” have translated into needs, though, as we have grown and realized that we seriously underestimated our true needs. Perhaps we need to engage in some wide-angle pro-activity (as presented by my friend Amie Dawe at TEDx Fort McMurray) and recognize that we should try to look far into the future when thinking about what we “need” and “want”, and not be limited by only focusing on the immediate.Here is my fear: a decade from now, when these things have gone unbuilt because we played the needs vs. wants game, we realize that the things we deemed as “wants” ten years ago are now our desperate “needs”, and we find ourselves behind yet again. I think we have struggled for far too long with inadequacies, and while it takes a great deal of courage and a certain leap of faith to embrace the things that seem like mere “wants” I would argue we need to do exactly that – or discover ourselves continuing to not have the things we want – or need.