By now, most people have seen, or at least heard about, Pharrell Williams’ 24-hour "Happy" music video, one of the many examples of planning’s presence in popular culture. The video loops his popular song “Happy” with a 24-hour video set in Los Angeles, showing all different types of people in various urban environments of L.A., happily dancing, skipping, jigging, moonwalking, etc. through residential neighborhoods, downtown streets, a train station, or while riding a bus. The common thread among them all is that they are all so clearly HAPPY while experiencing different aspects of their urban environments. The video has of course spawned copycat videos from cities all over the world showing that they too are happy, such as this one set in Washington, D.C.
I’m sure Pharrell was not intending to showcase urban planning, but regardless, the impact of the urban environment on our moods is prevalent throughout the whole 24-hour video (and no I have not watched all 24 hours). Our urban environments greatly impact our happiness levels, most of the time without us consciously knowing that we are so affected by our surroundings. Perhaps on a subconscious level we all know what a “happy” city is, or is not. Would we prefer to walk down a wide highway with cars zooming past and surrounded by a concrete desert of parking lots or would we rather walk down an urban street shared by cars, transit, bicyclists, and pedestrians with landscaping and storefronts? What really makes a “happy city” and how can we ensure our decision-makers are making the right choices that will create and support this goal?
Journalist and urbanist Charles Montgomery set out to answer this question in his book Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design published in November 2013. His goal was to determine whether urban policy and design impact our overall well-being. He studied this by bridging urban design with the emerging science of happiness. He traveled to cities all over the world to discover what makes a city happy (and what does not). It is not just in how the city is designed but also in how we use the city. How we get around the city, how we interact with others, where we choose to live, all have an impact on our happiness levels. The result of his study is a six-part recipe for urban happiness – challenging cities to promote joy, health, freedom, resilience, equity, and social connections. “The happy city, the green city, and the low-carbon city are the same place, and we can all help build it.”
To find out more, check out his blog and Happy City Lab here.
–Alana Brasier, Cities That Work Blog