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Happy City

Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design

By Charles Montgomery
13-minute read
Audio available
Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design by Charles Montgomery

Happy City (2013) explains how urban planning can help us live healthier and more joyful lives in the big city. From the history of urban sprawl to design blunders, to strategies that encourage residents to socialize, relax and exercise, these blinks reveal the hidden features that can make or break city life.

  • Readers thinking about moving to a new city
  • Students of social psychology or urban planning
  • People fascinated by the inner workings of urban life

Charles Montgomery is an acclaimed journalist, specializing in urban engagement. In 2005, his book The Shark God won the Charles Taylor Prize.

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Happy City

Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design

By Charles Montgomery
  • Read in 13 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 8 key ideas
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Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design by Charles Montgomery
Synopsis

Happy City (2013) explains how urban planning can help us live healthier and more joyful lives in the big city. From the history of urban sprawl to design blunders, to strategies that encourage residents to socialize, relax and exercise, these blinks reveal the hidden features that can make or break city life.

Key idea 1 of 8

City suburbs were designed to make us happier, but things haven’t quite worked out that way.

If you took a trip back in time to visit your favorite nineteenth-century metropolis, it probably wouldn’t be your favorite city anymore. Back then cities were dirty, disease-ridden and overflowing with people. This miserable situation led urban planners to ask themselves: What could we do better?

In the early twentieth century, urban planners realized that cities would be better off if they were spread out over a larger area. This seemed like a big improvement on the cramped cities of the industrial revolution – plus, the newly invented automobile allowed city-dwellers to escape to the country every now and then.

And so the suburbs were born. For a while, townspeople were able to live healthier lives than they had in the congested city centers.

Fast forward to the present, however, and it would appear that the tables have turned. The modern city center offers far better living standards than it did in the past, while living on the outskirts of major cities has left citizens unhappy and exhausted.

Suburban residents are, after all, removed from many things. All destinations – from schools to medical facilities and even bars and places to hang out – require a long commute. People who live out in the suburbs spend more time on the road, which generally leaves them more worn down than inner-city citizens.

In 2008, two economists compared German citizens’ estimates of how long it took them to get to work with how satisfied they were with their lives. A pattern emerged: the further the commute, the less satisfied these people felt.

Spending all your time on the road also leaves you with less time to socialize. This too impacts your overall happiness. To prove the point, economist John Halliwell studied the Gallup World Polls from 2003 to 2010. He found that, when it comes to what makes us happy with our life, relationships with other people trump everything else – yes, even income.

While the suburban sprawl was a great idea in theory, it made people unhappier in practice. So, can cities still turn things around?

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