What Makes for a Happy City?

by Christine Sine

This is the third in a series of articles I am posting on happiness. You can check out the other articles here:

What Happiness Habits Should We Develop?

Do We Really Want to Be Happy?

Hong Kong

Is urban design really powerful enough to make or break happiness? so asks Enrique Peñalosa, mayor of Bogota Columbia in a fascinating article The Secret of the World’s Happiest Cities

The question deserves consideration, because the happy city message is taking root around the world. “The most dynamic economies of the 20th century produced the most miserable cities of all,” Peñalosa told me over the roar of traffic. “I’m talking about the US Atlanta, Phoenix, Miami, cities totally dominated by cars.” Read the entire article here.

Penalosa has, over the last 20 years, redesigned Bogota.

He threw out the ambitious highway expansion plan and instead poured his budget into hundreds of miles of cycle paths; a vast new chain of parks and pedestrian plazas; and the city’s first rapid transit system (the TransMilenio), using buses instead of trains. He banned drivers from commuting by car more than three times a week. This programme redesigned the experience of city living for millions of people, and it was an utter rejection of the philosophies that have guided city planners around the world for more than half a century.

Penalosa was inspired by Jamie Lerner Mayor of Curitiba, Brazil who began a similar project in the 1970s transforming Curitiba, a city that was known for its flooding, crime and transportation nightmares into a haven of parks and public transport, with one of the highest income levels and most desirable places to live in Brazil. It is considered the most sustainable city in the world.

Penalosa believes that everyone should have equal access to happiness and that we can and should design cities for happiness. Our Western way of building cities with emphasis on cars and the privatization of public spaces, is he believes both unfair to the poor and cruel to our children who can no longer play safely on the streets. It also tends to isolate us into self centred individuals with few meaningful relationships.

As much as we complain about other people, there is nothing worse for mental health than a social desert. The more connected we are to family and community, the less likely we are to experience heart attacks, strokes, cancer and depression. Connected people sleep better at night. They live longer. They consistently report being happier.

The emphasis on neighbourhood development, social networking, and local involvement is essential to our happiness and ongoing peace of mind. In his recent article for Mustard Seed Associates Are You Ready For an Urban Future. my husband Tom talks about this. He asks the important question which I want to leave you with today:

Are you ready for an urban future, or at least the future in which we start creating the good life of God with our neighbors?

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