Happy City by Charles Montgomery explores urban policies through the idea of a happy city and as summarized by Rowan Moore from the Observer Happy City is “a valuable book… It says forcefully what can't be said too much… It is better to spend as little time as possible in cars and to increase the possibilities of encountering other people and new experiences”.The book is quite dense as it draws into many examples through citations of academic research (with 323 citations to be exact). So I thought that the best would be for me to share some ideas, quotes and examples that I found interesting.
Urban design as a happiness movement:
The movement has its roots in the anti-modernist foment of the 1960's and has drawn architects, neighborhoods activist, public health experts, transportation engineers, network theorists and politicians into a battle for the shape and soul of cities.
Enrique Peñalosa (mayor of Bogota in the mid 90’s) was a pioneer applying it into public policies, transforming the city by implementing bike lanes, better transportation, more public parks; and a network of new libraries, schools and nurseries as he advocated that we humans need to walk, just as birds need to fly. We need to be around other people. We need beauty. We need contact with nature. And most of all, we need not to be excluded. We need to feel some sort of equality.
The importance of social connections:
A team of Italian economists lead by Stefano Bartolini, aimed to explain in 2008 the gap between raising income and flat lining happiness in the US. The Italians tried removing economic and social data from their models and they found that the only factor powerful enough to hold down people's self reported happiness in the face of all that wealth was the country's declining social capital - the social networks and interactions that keep us connected with others. It was even more corrosive than the income gap' between rich and poor.
Robert Putnam warned: in 1985 the typical American reported having 3 people he could confide in. By 2004, the network had shrunk to 2 and it hasn't bounced back. Almost half the population says they have no one, or just one person, in whom they can confide
There are clear connections that demonstrate that the more a city spreads out, the less likely citizens are to meet (Farber study demonstrates it).
Getting it wrong:
Suburbia has turned into sprawl and its not the way we want to live.
Nants Foley, a realtor in California, warns homebuyers that getting bigger homes did not increase their happiness. She wrote: "Time and time again, I would walk into an absolutely gorgeous home with a beautiful pool that never got used and a game room that was never actually filled with friends owned by people who were living really unhappy lives".
This is explained by the Noble prizewinning economist Gary Becker and his colleague Luis Rayo at the University of Chicago. The pair described an algorithm that explains that Humans do not perceive the value of things in absolute terms. We have been hardwired for active dissatisfaction
Graphic example is provided by Bruno Frey and Alois Stutzer from the University of Zurich, found that a person with a one-hour commute has to earn 40 per cent more money to be as satisfied with life as someone who walks to the office, this is further described in their article "Stress that doesn't pay: the commuting paradox".
Kevin Kruse blames the city's rapid urbanization to the civil rights movement because when white segregationists lost their battles in cities, they used suburbia as a subtle but effective way of isolating themselves form the black
How to be closer:
2 Major improvements need to happen in our cities: increase the interaction with nature and increase our social interactions.
Hospital patients with views of nature need less pain medication and get better faster than say those with views of brick walls. Even simulating a view can help.
Nature in cities makes us happier and healthier and it helps us build bonds with other people and place in which we live.
People who inhibit residential towers, report being more fearful, more depressed, and more prone to suicide than those people living on the ground. Also, being around too many strangers involves a stressful mix of social uncertainty and lack of control. They also report feeling lonely and crowded by other people at the very same time (we tolerate people better when we know that we can escape).
John Helliwell, a Canadian economist, explains that loving your home and your neighbors are related sentiments and that it extends to what he calls the magic triangle, which goes as follows: people who say that they feel "belong" to their community are happier than those who do not. And people who trust their neighbors feel a greater sense of that belonging. And that sense of belonging is influenced by social contact. And casual encounters (such as the kind that might happen around a volleyball court on a Friday night) are just as important to belonging and trust as contact with family and close friends. Heliwell's statistical analysis demonstrates that trust, feelings of belonging, social time and happiness are like balloons tied together in a basket.