Durable Growth

Is happiness intertwined with place?

Downtown Winters

Downtown Winters

Can living in a well-designed place make us happy?  Is contentment more a function of good design than of financial wealth?  Have poorly designed places been sapping our satisfaction with life?

Author Charles Montgomery tackles those questions in his book Happy City.  He begins with Enrique Penalosa, who in his term as mayor of Bogota, Columbia espoused the expansion of bikeways, public transit, and parks as a way of building a contentment that might exceed the contentment of financial prosperity.  Montgomery then continues into an examination of the post-World War II land-use patterns of American cities and their possible connection to a lack of American emotional fulfillment.

But Montgomery doesn’t blindly accept the hypothesis that good design will lead to happiness.  Instead, he frames the key questions around the hypothesis, such as how can happiness be defined and measured, and then begins an extended search for answers.  Happy City is the story of his search.

I’m not going to give away his conclusions, in part because I haven’t yet completed the book.  But I want to call your attention to the book and its likely importance to urbanism in 2014.

Long-time readers may remember that the relationship of happiness and design is a subject on which I’ve previously touched.  In The Architecture of Happiness, author Alain de Botton poses the question, “If our surroundings are important to our happiness, how can we ever be unhappy in a well-designed place?”  I considered it a profound question, although I don’t believe that de Botton found an answer to the question.  Nonetheless, The Architecture of Happiness complements Happy City sufficiently well that I’ll be dipping back into it as I read Happy City.

I hope many of you join me in following the trek of Montgomery as he considers the connection between happiness and design.

Schedule Note

The agenda for the last meeting of Petaluma Urban Chat was to select our next joint reading book.  After a fine discussion about alternatives, we selected Happy City, which is one reason I’ve begun reading it myself.

The next meeting of Urban Chat will be Tuesday, March 11.  If Happy City intrigues you, and I suggest that it should, you should join us at the meeting.  The initial reading assignment is the first five chapters.  But even if you don’t have time to secure a copy and read the chapters, you should come regardless.  I expect a fine conversation on a pertinent subject.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. – Dave Alden (davealden53@comcast.net)

Written by Dave Alden

Dave Alden

Dave Alden is a Registered Civil Engineer. A University of California graduate, he has worked on energy and land-use projects in California, Oregon, and Washington. He was also the president of a minor league baseball team for two seasons. He lives on the west side of Petaluma with his wife and two dogs. The blog that he writes can be found at http://northbaydesignkit.blogspot.com.

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