Review of Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Mongomery’s book, Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design, explores how decades of urban design are destructive to human happiness, human life, and the life of the planet itself. He tours the world — focused mostly on Vancouver, Portland, Bogotá, Atlanta, and Hong Kong — to understand the different choices that urban designers historically adopted and why communities are railing against those decisions, now.

The book represents a tour de force, insofar as it carefully and clearly explains that urban sprawl — which presumed that we would all have cars and that we all wanted or needed isolated homes — is incredibly harmful. The focus of the book is, really, on how designing for cars leads to designing for things instead of people, and how efforts to facilitate car traffic has been antithetical to human life and flourishing. His call for happy cities really constitutes calls to, first and foremost, invest in urbanization and densification. Common social utilities, like transit and parks and community spaces, are essential for cities to become happy because these utilities both reduce commutes, increase socialization, and the presence of nature relieves the human mind of urban stresses.

While the book is rife with proposals for how to make things better, Montgomery doesn’t go so far as to argue that such changes are easy or that they can be universally applied everywhere. The infrastructure that exists, now, cannot simply be torn up and replaced. As a result he identifies practical ways that even suburban areas can reinvigorate their community spaces: key, in almost all cases, are finding ways to facilitate human contact by way of re-thinking the structures of urban design itself. These changes depend not only on — indeed, they may barely depend at all upon! — city planners and, instead, demand that citizens advocate for their own interests. Such advocacy needn’t entail using the language of architects and urban designers and can, instead, focus on words or themes such as ‘community’ or ‘safe for children to bike’ or ‘closer to community resources’ or ‘slower streets’ or ‘more green space’. After robustly, and regularly, issuing such calls then the landscape may begin to change to facilitate both human happiness and smaller environmental food prints.

If there is a flaw to this book, it is that many of the examples presume that small scale experiments necessarily are scalable to broad communities. I don’t know that these examples do not scale but, because of the relatively small sample-set and regularity at which Montgomery leverages them, it’s not clear how common or effective the interventions he proposes genuinely are. Nevertheless, this is a though-provoking books that challenges the reader to reflect on how cities are, and should be, built to facilitate and enable the citizens who reside within and beyond their boundaries.

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We are now learning that the effect of density is nuanced. For one thing, wealthier people do better in apartment towers than poor people. Not only do they have the money to pay for concierges, maintenance, gardening, decoration, and child care, but, having chosen their residences, they tend to attach greater status to them. Home feels better when it carries a different message about who you are. (A building’s status can be altered without any physical change at all. When they were sold on the open market, once-despised social housing blocks in central London became objects of desire for middle-class buyers who fetishizes their retro modernism.)

  • Charles Montgomery, Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design
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We need the nourishing, helping warmth of other people, but we also need the healing touch of nature. We need to connect, but we also need to retreat. We benefit from the conveniences of proximity, but these conveniences can come with he price of overstimulation and crowding. We will not solve the conundrum of sustainable city living unless we understand these contradictory forces and resolve the tension between them. How much space, privacy, and distance from other people do we need? How much nature do we need? Are there designs that combine the benefits of dispersal with the dividends of proximity?

  • Charles Montgomery, Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design
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… the meeting place, the agora, the village square are not trivial. They are not civic decoration or merely recreational. The life of a community is incomplete without them, just as the life of the individual is weaker and sicker without face-to-face encounters with other people.

  • Charles Montgomery, Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design
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Stop trying to sell me wrist-worn smartphones

Stop trying to sell me wrist-worn smartphones :

It absolutely baffles me who, exactly, smart watches are being designed for. The notion that something would be buzzing on my wrist (in my own, very anecdotal case) hundreds of times a day as I receive email, retweets, LinkedIn invites, text messages, hangouts messages, and so forth is absolutely absurd. That’s noise that I want to avoid or minimize, not enhance and maximize.

I own one, very nice, watch that I wear on special circumstances. It’s beautiful and is powered by kinetic motions. It’s light enough that it doesn’t annoy the hell out of me, but heavy enough that it’s comfortable on my wrist. And, in all cases, it doesn’t beep, buzz, or otherwise interfere with my daily life.

To my mind, the ‘rationale’ for smart watches is really predicated on the absurd sizes that smartphones are reaching. With phones increasingly being sold with 5 inch, or larger, screens the devices are eyesores whenever they’re pulled out and their screens examined.

That’s a very, very bad rationale to build a product on and (to my mind) indicates the failure of smartphone design. And the solution that failure isn’t smart watches but more humane-sized phones.

Image

carry-on-my-wayward-butt:

durinfamilyfeels:

eliastheswede:

queen-amy-of-leadworth:

japam:

yugoslavic:

why cant we all have the same the world would be a better place

what the fuck italy

BUT LOOK HOW HAPPY DENMARK IS.

I just realized now 101% done our outlets look in North America and I fucking lost it

our outlets are reacting to the other outlets

Of course, when you travel it’s often the case that housing builders have multi-national outlets (looking at you, in particular, Brasil). The problem is that you often don’t know about those commonalities until you arrive with all your kit. The worst is when you mistakenly assume that outlets will generally be multi-national outlets and that turns out to not be the case (I’m looking at you, UK).