Title: Happy City Author: Charles Montgomery Summary: A manifesto for healthy, walkable, mixed land use, and medium density developments Year Published: 2013

Transforming our lives through urban design



1. The Mayor of Happy

“We might not be able to fix the economy. We might not be able to make everyone as rich as Americans. But we can design the city to give people dignity, to make them ‘feel’ rich. The city can make them happier.” - Enrique Peñalosa p2

“First, the city had been gradually reoriented around private automobiles. Second, public spaces and resources had largely been privatised.” “Common civic space was disregarded and degraded." p5

“The city is a way of life. It can be a reflection of all our best selves. It can be whatever we want it to be. It can change, and change dramatically” p6

“If we are going to avoid the cataclysmic effects of climate change, we must find more efficient ways to live." p11

2. The City Has Always Been a Happiness Project

“One thing is certain: we all translate our own ideas of happiness into form” p16

It is impossible to segregate the life and design of a city from the attempt to understand happiness, to experience it and to build it for society” p16

Market economist’s case for suburban sprawl: “if you can judge what makes people happy by observing how they spend money, then the fact that so many people have purchased detached homes in urban sprawl is proof that it leads to happiness” p27

Perhaps “sprawl fulfills American’s preferences for privacy, mobility and detachment from the problems of high-density environments”, it “reflects every individual’s natural born right to maximise utility”. p27


  1. our preferences - the things we buy, the places we choose to live - do not always maximise our happiness in the long run
  2. “sprawl, as an urban form, was laid-out, massively subsidized and legally mandated long before anyone actually decided to buy a house there”, before a demand for their preferences. Sprawl is “as much as a result of zoning, legislation and lobbying as a crowded city block. It did not occur naturally. It was designed."

Beyond the hedonic city

“The messages encoded in architecture and systems can foster a sense of mastery or helplessness. The good city should be measured not only by its distractions and amenities, but also by how it affects this everyday drama of survival, work and meaning” p36

What matters

“The most important effect of the city is the way in which it moderates our relationships with other people.” p36

The tug of war

“strong, positive relationships are the foundation of happiness. The city is ultimately a shared project' p40

as a social project, the city challenges us not just to live together, but to thrive together, by understanding that our fate is a shared one.” p41

Happy City: a job description

cities must be regarded as more than engines of wealth; they must be viewed as systems that should be shaped to improve human well-being” p41

“what should a city accomplish, after it meets our basic needs of food, shelter and security?

  • The city should strive to maximize joy and minimize hardship
  • it should lead us towards health rather than sickness
  • it should offer us real freedom to live, move and build our lives as we wish
  • it should build resilience against economic or environmental shocks
  • it should be fair in the way it apportions space, services, mobility, joys, hardships and costs
  • most of all, it should enable us to build and strengthen the bonds between friends, families and strangers that give life meaning, bonds that represent the city’s greatest achievement and opportunity
  • the city that acknowledges and celebrates our common fate, that opens doors to empathy and cooperation, will help us tackle the great challenges of this century

None of these goals are radical. The challenge now is to see just how the shapes and systems of our cities contribute to meeting them. How are today’s cities performing? How should we build differently, and live differently, if we could chart the connection between the designs of our cities and the map of happiness? What would we change if we could?” p42

“the evidence shows that cities do indeed design our lives” p42

3. The (Broken) Social Scene

“Distance is reduced to abstraction. Home is simultaneously far from and close to everything else, depending on the number of cars on the road at any moment” p45

The dispersed city, or sprawl: “urban life has now been stretched to such an extent that suburbia, exurbia and edge cities together form a distinct system that has transformed the way that entire city-regions function”. They “take up more space per person, and they are more expensive to build and operate than any urban form ever constructed”. Moving to the edge, to exurbs, commits the residents to a “massive, sustained investment in automobiles and food”. p46,48

By longer commutes as a result, much casual local social contact within the exurbs is removed, and because of a hit to communal relationships, happiness suffers too. p50-2

The social deficit and the city

Social isolation may be the greatest hazard of city living p54

“People who live in monofunctional, car-dependant neighbourhoods outside of urban centres are less trusting of other people than people who live in walkable neighbourhoods where housing is mixed with shops, services and places to work.” Both social and political involvement takes a hit. p54-55

“Civilization is a shared project” p56

The lonely everywhere

“Dispersed communities can squeeze serendipitous encounters out of our lives by pushing everyday destinations beyond the walker’s reach” p56

“the more thinly a city spreads out, the less access citizens have to eachother” p57

The end of the road

“In the past decade the tide of dispersal has slacked. Central cities from Manhattan to Vancouver to Mexico City have seen an influx of new residents willing to give proximity another shot.” p62

“If we are going to escape the effects of dispersal, we need to understand it as a system of building, planning and thinking. We need to consider how it was born in the first place.” p62

4. How we got here

2 design ideologies to ‘fix’ the health of a city and its inhabitants:

  1. School of Separation: The good life can be achieved only by strictly segregating the various functions of a city so that certain people can avoid the worst of its toxicity
  2. School of Speed: Translates freedom into velocity - the faster away you get away from the city, the freer you will become

Everything in its place: the School of Separation

A natural response to the the horrors of the Industrial Revolution - sensible to retreat from (escapist) or isolate (modernist) the city’s unpleasantness (basically what Ebenezer Howard’s garden cities were meant to achieve for Londoners).

Modernists (European) hoped that through advances in technology and mass-production, cities could be fixed by rebuilding them in the image of highly efficient assembly lines. Le Corbusier believed that most urban problems could be fixed by separating the city into functionally pure districts arranged according to the simple, rational diagrams of the master architect. (p65)

Although through emission controls and sewage systems, city centres in MEDCs are no longer physically toxic, the ideology of seperation has lived on.

Dispersed sprawl seems at first to be a fusion between the escapist’s garden city and the modernist’s perfectly segregated machine idyll (p66).

Zoning was intended to reduce congestion, improve health and make business more efficient - but most of all, protect property values. They strictly separate places for living, working, shopping and recreation. (p66)

Exclusionary zoning, which on the surface bans only certain kinds of buildings and functions from a neighbourhood, served the deeper purpose of excluding people who fell beneath a certain income bracket. (p67)

The ethos of spatial seperation also favours large-scale retailers and ambitious suburban property developers who find it easier and cheaper to impose simple designs on large parcels of virgin land than to adapt to existing urban fabric. (p68)

These zoning rules and habits have created static and seperated cities with first-generation suburbs closer to downtowns not becoming denser or more diverse, pushing new development out to the ever-expanding urban fringe and beyond! (p69)

I think this fundamentally leads to an ineffective use of urban space, by restricting the postential for urban renewal in the decaying inner suburbs.

When Freedom got a New Name: The School of Speed

The street was not such a free place any more - even though freedom was Motordom’s rallying cry - the purpose of the urban street shifted from a shared space to one ruled by cars: adopted by hundreds of cities eager to embrace what seemed like a forward-thinking approach to mobility (post-1928 USA). A cultural standard was set that would influence urban design for decades. (p72-3)

Futurama: School of Speed (cont.)

This is freedom for cars to move very quickly, unhindered by all the other things that used to happen on streets. To achieve freedom, friction had to be eliminated through roads unhindered by the friction of intersections and parked cars. (p73)

The fast city would set people free. (p74)

This approach led planners to corral pedestrians into overhead walkways and onto traffic islands - encouraging driving and discouraging walking and cycling in the long run.

The system that reproduces itself

The rapid, uniform and seemingly endless replication of this dispersal system was, for many people and for many years, a fuel for an age of unprecedented wealth - creating sustained demand for the cars, appliances and furniture that fuelled the manufacturing economy, creating millions of jobs in construction and massive profits for land developers: giving more people than ever before the chance to purchase their own homes on their own land, far from the noise, haste and pollution of downtown. (p77)

Traffic signals, asphalt and pavements have been redesigned to favour travellers passing through in private vehicles over the people who live there. (p77)

As dispersal has distilled and privatised material comforts in detached suburban homes, it also off-loaded danger and unpleasantness to the streets of dense cities. (p78)

The journey to a happier form isn’t choosing between the downtown and the sprawl edge; centralised cities don’t currently meet our needs for well-being better than sprawl.

“We must redesign both landscapes and the fabric that connects them in ways that answer the needs that led us to retreat in the first place.” (p78)

To determine what those redesigns would be, we need to understand how places, crowds, views, architecture and ways of moving influence how we feel. We need to understand how we comprehend the urban world, making decisions over our place in it. (p79)

5. Getting It Wrong

Wrong again

Extrinsic motivators are fixed rewards resulting in short term instances of happiness - a finish line of satisfaction that shifts.

Intrinsic motivators are journeys that contribute to resilient happiness - we never get used to the pleasure and happiness we derive from them - like sports, hobbies or creative projects. (p86-7)

But, we continue to make decisions that suggest we aren’t good at distinguishing between short term and long term pleasure or happiness. We keep getting it wrong! (p87) Our decisions are biased by cultural messages. (p92)

Errors from above

Our options of where we live are limited by the planners, politicians and speculators who imprint their own values and biases on the urban landscape - making these same errors in decisions. (p93)

Planners tend to simplify multifaceted problems. They make cities seem strikingly legible through ‘sublime straight lines’ and strict functional division, whereas in reality, cities refuse to behave like simple problems. (p94)

These simple, monolithic and rational plans extinguish the intrinsic social benefits of messy public space. (p95)

The emotional engineer

By separating pedestrians from cars, removing distractions and widening traffic lanes, roads feel safer - making roads more dangerous as drivers move faster. This has made the wide, spacious suburban roads more dangerous than the narrow streets of more traditional neighborhoods. Trees and parked cars slow drivers down, making roads safer. This is evidence of mistakes made by introducing cultural and personal biases through simplifying the multifaceted urban problem at hand. (p99)

The confusing thing about tomorrow is that it will be different from today

Presentism: we let what we see and feel today bias our views of the past and future - we assume that the ways we think and act won’t change as time passes. (p101)

New asphalt changed the collective mind of the city: caused thousands of people to regard the road differently and behave differently - people start to drive, others alter routes and some choose to relocate. Property developers take advantage of newly accessible land - to offer people a chance to live or work in the landscape of dispersal.

This is induced traffic: a phenomenon in which new highway lanes invariably clog up with hundreds of thousands of cars driven by new drivers on their way to new neighborhoods fed by new road capacity.

Thinking about crisis

The sustainable city has to promise more happiness than the status quo; and be healthier, higher in status, more fun and more resilient than the dispersed city - drawing us close together rather than pushing us apart.

Just as the dispersed city limits our choices and pushes us to stretch our lives, the world-saving city must embody lessons from behavioural economics to ensure that the good choice is the happy choice.

In the persuit of happiness, we might build the city that will save the world. (p107)

6. How to Be Closer

Seems straightforward at first: if we need to escape dispersal, we need to make sure dense places meet our psychological needs better than sprawl. But, we need to balance our needs for proximity and isolation. To get close with eachother we need a little more distance and a little more nature, but not the nature we think we need. (p108)

Closer, Part I: The Nature Dividend

Voluntary attention (consciously solving problems; negotiating city streets) requires lots of focus and energy.

Involuntary attention (which we give to nature) is effortless. You might not even realise you are paying attention, and yet may be restored and transformed by the act. (p111)

The social life of trees

“green courtyards hosted some kind of social life, while the barren courtyards were consistently dead” “those with the bare views … were psychologically fatigued” “people who lived next to green spaces knew more of their neighbours” (p112/3)

“Nature isn’t just good for us, it brings out the good in us.” (p113)

The Savannah trap

Most people really like savannah-esque views, typically characterised by moderate to high openness; low, grassy ground vegetation; and trees that are either scattered or gathered in small groups. Our preferences are collectively similar. (p114)

These are the landscapes that nurtured our hunter-gatherer ancestors for thousands of years. Perhaps we are inclined to like these landscapes as they helped our Palaeolithic ancestors survive. Jay Appleton, a British geographer, argued that most of us continue to unconsciously evaluate terrain for threats and opportunities - leading us to feel better with the improved resource quality of our locality. We like open views (prospect), but also like to feel safe (refuge): prospect-refuge theory. (p114)

Perhaps dispersal is a natural response to these biological leanings. Suburbia is an atomised Savannah for everyone. A Suburban Savannah. (p115)

But perhaps these preferred landscapes are quite different to the landscapes that are good for us. This is about the aesthetic value of biological complexity. The sterile lawns and token trees we create might abstain our hunger for nature, but aren’t good enough. (p116)

The challenge is in achieving this biological complexity in cities. We can let our green spaces be truly wild, or nurture complexity in them. How do we balance suburban Savannah and the unnerving density? (p116)

What is needed is regular exposure to nature - we need to infuse nature, and nature complexity, into denser places. (p117)

View-based urbanism: Vancouver, Canada

Vancouver, Canada has spent the past 30 years drawing people into density, radically reversing a half century of suburban retreat. (p117)

It all began in 1970s when the city’s citizens rejected a plan to wrap downtown in freeway - making Vancouver the only major city in North America without a highway running through its core. The city has since decided to create more roadspace for cars - and is also hemmed in by ocean, steep mountains and an agricultural land reserve that restricts suburban growth. This, and immigration, fuelled a downtown building boom: reurbanisation

Vancouver’s urban core (a 20 block peninsula bound on 2 sides by sea, capped by Stanley Park) has been rapidly transformed. As Americans raced towards suburban horizons, Vancouverites were rushing back downtown. (p117)

This is the paradox: the more crowded Vancouver gets, the more people want to live there! It sits at or near the top of quality of life index. It even has the lowest per capita carbon footprint of any major city on the continent - partly because people live closer together, which reduces the energy used in transportation and heating. And, although it takes longer to drive across town, Vancouver residents are now having easier commutes - people now work in the close vertical city, and because more commute by foot, bike and public transport. (p118)

What makes this vertical experiment unique is that the city accommodates residents' biophilic needs: the downtown was shaped by the local obsession with views. Vancouverites turn to mountains, rainforest and ocean: natural complexity. These sight lines are protected by ‘view corridors’. (p118)

Vancouver adapted Hong Kong’s method of extreme stacking: low podiums hold shops and services, with multiple residential towers ontop - towers with slim profiles and good separation. Therefore, most tower-dwellers have a visual connection with nature, while there is at least a glimpse of nature at street level - which creates convenience through the services and shops in the podiums.

This Vancouverism works because the benefits of density are aggressively public, public access to the natural backdrop. (p119)

Through planners' power, they can squeeze out community benefits from developers for them to be allowed to build higher. The result: as the city gets denser, it’s residents enjoy more public green space. (p120)

Small doses

For nature to be effective, proximity is needed. To get the benefits of nature, it has to be integrated into the urban fabric. Even a small bit of nature makes a big contribution to happiness (even an avenue median).

Green interventions

Daily exposure to nature is essential, proximity matters, green space isn’t an optional luxury. We need to build nature into the urban system, and into our lives, at all scales. Cities need big, immersive destination parks, but also medium-sized walking-distance parks and green strips (even potted plants!). (p122)

This is achievable if we alter our priorities.

Underperforming or derelict transportation infrastructures are ideal for biophilic retrofits - e.g. The High Line, Manhattan, drawing visitors into a playful intimacy with eachother and with nature. (p123)

Nature in cities make us happier, healthier, friendlier and kinder. It helps us to build bonds with other people and the places in which we live. If we infuse cities with natural diversity, complexity, and most of all, opportunities to feel, touch and work with nature, we can win the biophilic challenge. Biological density, hence, must be a prerequisite for architectural density. (p125)

Closer, Part II: The Social Machine

Crowding, while pushing us together physically, actually pushes is apart socially by forcing us to shut out the noise and people in order to cope with the overload of stimulus. (p128)

The Crowd, Moderated

“Crowding is a problem of perception, and it is a problem of design that can be addressed, at least in part, by understanding the subtle physics of sociability” (p129)

Human density (physical state) and crowding (psychological and subjective) are not ****the same thing: e.g. elevator, standing near buttons reduces perception of crowded elevator - because of increased control.

We tolerate people better when we know we can escape them: e.g. people who live in crowded areas feel better when they can retreat to their own space - happiness increases when people can moderate contact with each-other through private rooms, and also by viewing open space through windows reduces the perception of crowding, and increases happiness. A view is an access point to nature and functions as a social device.

Social roles and relationships (e.g. with neighbors) soothe and reassure us, while closer relationships (e.g. coworkers) can wear us out. (p130)

“We need places that help us to moderate our interactions with strangers without having to retreat entirely” - unlike the suburbs where commutes replace serendipitous encounters with strangers; or the dense city center where we become so overstimulated and exhausted that we retreat into solitude. (p131)

Testing proximity

This crucial blend of control and conviviality can be designed into residential architectures. (p131)

In this case, the Corridor Residence led to a lack of control of social interaction, leading to feelings of over-stimulation and isolation. However, the communal suite system (below) allowed informal interaction without commitment, leading to greater social happiness and well-being. (p131-3)


The critical issue for sociability isn’t human density, but rather how well we can control when and how much we can interact with-other - isolation and over-stimulation occurring simultaneously if we lose control - our mental well-being (and communal well-being), hence, depending on our ability to fine-tune our social world. (p133)

“Crude, modernist designs can be socially toxic.” (p134)

“Home feels better when it carries a different message about who you are.” (p137)

Gehl found that residents chat the most - increasing relationship happiness - when yards are shallow enough to allow for conversation, but deep enough to allow for retreat - meaning in the social-space-less tower blocks, this social development and exchange isn’t possible. Again, the social world becomes more manageable when you experience repeated contact with a few neighbors rather than busy tower-block elevators. (p137)

The magic triangle

John Helliwell’s triangle of trust, life-satisfaction and belonging:

  • People who say they feel that they belong to their community are happier than those who don’t
  • People who trust their neighbors feel a greater sense of this belonging
  • This sense of belonging is influenced by social contact

NB: casual encounters are just as important to belonging and trust as contact with family and close friends!

Trust, feelings of belonging and happiness are linked. Thus, vertical neighborhoods exhibit lower happiness than lateral neighborhoods.

However, still many people love tower living - building a social world in the tower city using the ‘tools of the city’ (e.g. coffee shops): they turn uncomfortable intimacies into opportunities. However, the social design of tower blocks doesn’t make this the default social behavior.

The sweet spot is somewhere in between

A happy geometry is one that balances our competing needs for privacy, nature, conviviality and convenience - resulting in a hybrid between the vertical and horizontal city. (p139)

BedZED in the UK achieved this through aggressively mixing housing with workshops and offices in neat rows of low-rises topped by colorful weather-vanes. As may residents work within the complex, public gardens can take the place of some parking spaces - increasing social cohesion. (p140)

In the old streetcar city, greed helped produce a sweet-spot for density that permitted happy, social living. (p141)

Streetcar City 2.0

Many of these happy streetcar cities lost their happy geometry because of the increasing numbers of cars, however the geometry of the streetcar city has survived, and has been developed in places like Toronto, Seattle, Portland and Vancouver.

They survived through an absence of freeways, their geographical constraints and local policies that encouraged increased density, the density that helped to achieve that delicate balance between privacy, conviviality and biophilia.

This is enhanced by encouraging mixed-use development along the old street-car grid, where stacked land-use occurs.

These local policies help to enable large-scale urban infill projects, where homeowners can replace lane-way garages with small residences, and build basement-level apartments, increasing the density of the neighborhood. (p142-5)


Diverse density and dense diversity

This process of neighborhood infill increases housing choice, meaning the area accommodates a diverse range of people from all backgrounds with different demands. This is helped by measures like inclusionary zoning - which further increases the sense of community by taking urban living to a more equal level.

This style of diverse land-use and people creates a geometry that is more social, as all the facilities are within walking (not driving) distance - increasing the opportunity for social interaction. This has been especially successful in East Vancouver. (p145-6)

A system of voluntary association

There is no one perfect neighborhood for everyone, we have individual tolerances for different elements of the local urban framework - but the systems which we live in undeniably influence our emotional lives.

We can find various geometries to save ourselves, and the planet. Although they don’t all involve vertical development, they do suggest a tighter urban geometry than the dispersal model we are often sold. (p149)

7. Convivialities

Conviviality: The quality of being friendly and lively; friendliness.

“The architect and psychologist were trained to disagree.” Architects created concepts, but didn’t study how people responded to their buildings after they moved in. (p150)

A radical change of scene was needed for the architect to come round to the psychologist’s thinking. People believed the city and civic culture could only work one way - the way it always had done.

Copenhagen transformed through the pedestrianisation of Strøget, people pouring into the space vacated by cars. People became more interested in watching people doing things (like construction crews) than watching flower beds. Activity in human life is the greatest attraction in cities.

Making People Visible

👨‍💼: Gehl did for human traffic what traffic engineers once did for cars - making pedestrians visible to planners: for each square-meter of street, 14 walkers/minute could be handled, any more and people would bunch into marching packs to cope with congestion. Thus, if you make more space for people, you get more people, and you get more public life.

Copenhagen began to reclaim streets from the cars, making streets friendlier and more inviting to people outside of cars. A latticework of pedestrian streets and plazas spread through the city’s core, linked to the rest of the city with a carefully planned network of bicycle paths (which meant even more people spilled through them). People came simply because there were so many other people to see. (p155)

Things were happening, so more things happened

By redesigning city space, you can actually transform the culture (e.g. now Copenhagers are out on their plazas in the dead of winter, wrapped in woolen blankets, sipping little cups of hot beverages). (p156)

There is a preference of crowd affinity: we like to look at each-other, hovering in the zone between strangers and intimates - explaining why we often chat in doorways and on busy street corners. This seems to contradict the urge to retreat, the urge that helped create the dispersed city in the first place. (p157)

The Stranger Deficit

The purpose of the city used to lead people towards casual contact with people outside of our circle of intimates. Now, we can meet almost all our needs without gathering in public - a kind of social deficit. (p158)

The spaces which we occupy can not only determine how we feel, but they can also change the way we regard other people and how we treat one another. (p160)

A Science of Conviviality

“Design can prime us towards trust and empathy, so that we regard more people as worth of care and consideration” (p163)

Designing Antisociality

Every urban landscape sends messages about who we are and what the street is for - altering our sociability and emotions. (p165)

Long, blank facades kill street sociability, while active streets increase happiness and sociability. (p167)

By saving small business, human-scale blocks can also be saved.


Public conviviality can be as simple as setting street life free around the city’s natural systems; or through instigating triangulation to draw people to public spaces and to slow them down to stimulate sociability. (p170-1)

With the right triangulation, even the ugliest of places can be infused with a warmth that turns strangers into familiars by giving us a reason to slow down - fed by a subway, but led by something actually happening in that space. This something happened because it was allowed to happen. Food carts could be this draw that gives us a reason to slow down, and connect with strangers in a public space - increasing happiness.


Automobiles have the power to turn a neighborhood street into a non-place through ‘social corrosion’ because of the danger and uncertainty they infuse into a streetscape through their noise and velocity. (p173)

Public life begins when we slow down - which is why reducing velocity has become a municipal policy in Copenhagen.

The Social Life of Parking

People in cities are actually less likely to know their neighbours if the shops in their area have parking lots in front of them - because they shift the balance of shoppers from local people towards people passing through. (Frank, Lawrence; **p175)

By making parking further away - like in Vauban, Freiburg - the street can become more lively by reducing the speed of the streets.

When Roads Stop Being Roads

Cities that are serious about the happiness of their citizens are confronting their relationships with velocity, making changes to what (and whom) streets are for. (p177)

Streets are for whatever we decide they are for, and central cities need not accept the discomforts thrust on them by dispersal.

8. Mobilicities I: How moving feels and why it does not feel better

City life is as much about moving through landscapes as it is about being in them. Not only does the city shape the way we move, but our movements shape the city in return. (p181)

Happy feet

Self-propelled commuters enjoy and find their commutes easier than those who sit for most of the journey. (p186)

Behaviour by design

We walk father when streets feel safe and interesting. But the level of walking or driving can also be driven by our preferences. People sometimes self-sort into neighborhoods that match their preferred mode of transport. (194-5)

Only the brave

For most people, the prospect of commuting by bike is unthinkable: urban cycling is just too scary! (p196)

The Worst Journey in the World

Sometimes it takes a radical shift in the urban imagination to point the way to being truly free in cities. (p200)

9. Mobilicities II: Freedom

New mobility is about the freedom to get across the city in whichever way you choose, shaped by your personal preferences. (p201-5)

Feeling free in transit

“The less you have to think about the trip and the more in control you feel, the easier the journey” (p205)

Real-time arrival data causes riders to feel calmer and more in control. (p207)

Innovation tends to take place in cities where the policy makers actually ride public transit. When transit us seen as a handout to the poor, tend not to invest beyond the most basic levels of service. (p208)

Freedom from owning things

Reshaping the future of mobility has everything to do with new ways of thinking, sharing information and adjusting the way we use the machines we have been using for years. (p208)

While the sharing culture may be an attractive vehicle for corporate capitalism, it won’t roll unless it is built and nurtured as a complete system, rather than being just another product to be marketed. (p212)

Extreme sharing

As these peer-to-peer systems grow and eventually guide strangers into mutually beneficial transactions, it will be interesting to observe more changes in user culture and in trust among strangers. (p215)

People will cycle if the experience were to be as safe and comfortable as riding in a car or bus. (p219)

Redesigning for freedom

The Danes in Copenhagen have tinkered and refined the systems that people use to get around the capital, making the experience of living there pleasurable.

The product of the idea that the city is a laboratory that invites and rewards experimentation, and the use that planners must also consider the psychology of mobility. (p222)

Copenhageners are motivated by self-interests to cycle, simply because it is the easiest and quickest way to get from A to B. (p223)

Part of this was the city forming a network of over 200 miles of seperated bike paths, orienting the city’s infrastructure towards space-efficient means of transport, like bikes, over cars - even synchronising traffic lights for the cyclist’s benefit! By seperating bike traffic from other traffic by a low curb, cyclists feel safer - increasing the city’s number of cyclists! (p224-6)

This is all part of Copenhagen’s target of going carbon neutral by 2025, aiming to become the world’s most bike friendly city (to trump Amsterdam!). (p225)

Planners have to confront the use of private car to build more variety, freedom, sharing and sustainability into mobility. (p228)

Demand, supply and suprise

When people start paying the true cost of driving, they find other ways of moving. (p228)

As in Times Square, NYC, by providing for more complexity and different means of moving, streets become more efficient, fair, healthy and fun - increasing public life as the stress of public space is reduced. (p231)

10. Who is the city for?

Urban spaces and systems are shaped by struggles between competing groups of people, apportioning the benefits of urban life, expressing who had lower and who does not. (p223)

The urban equity doctrine

A city can teach people a new citizenship of respect through its forms, systems and services - a city that respects us. (p241)

Aided by making bike routes and public transport a high-status experience that values other ways of moving on the same level as cars. (p242)

Fairness, felt

Status matters: feeling equal demands equality.

Redistributing the benefits of city living to reduce inequality, improving the city experience for the biggest number of people. (p245)

Status, as a subjective feeling, matters.

War and Peace

“The redistribution of privilege always meets with resistance” (p245)

The city’s amenities should be for everyone.

Equity wars

New plans that threaten the urban design status quo [always] face deep and emotional opposition. (p246)

Partly driven by deeply held beliefs about the relationship between urban form and culture: what it means to be free in cities. (p247)

The system of dispersal has infused the city, and indeed, our way if thinking about what streets and cities are for.

As the benefits of urban systems get reapportioned, some people will be inconvenienced. Very real fear of losing right to live / move as accustomed.

But, today’s urban mobility systems are indeed unfair, compounded by the way our cities are organised. [248-250]

American cities are inherently unequal - with the preferences of the wealthy woven into zoning codes - focussing investment into ‘favoured districts’, reducing the benefit of urban mobility for the urban poor. (p250)

To be fair

These urban inequalities need to be confronted: in part for the sake of the poor; in part for the shared soul of the city; and in part for purely pragmatic reasons - in a fair city, life can be better for everyone. (p250)

In a fair city, street space is appropriated, streets are safe for everyone and everyone had access to parks, shops, services and healthy food. (p250-1)

This access is almost never by accident.

The fairest parks are those that acknowledge through designing for different demographics that everyone has a right to be there (e.g. lawn for picnics, children’s area, sports facilities ect.) (p251)

But, there are challenges getting to this fair city.

In most places, happy redesigns (e.g bike lanes, good transit) appear first in favoured districts because their residents have the time, money and political influence to make them happen.

Also, where these measures happen, the increased livability of the area drives up land values. This is a disaster for renters, although of benefit for owners. It squeezes out poorer demographics who can’t afford the subsequent rent hikes. It can result in extremely rapid gentrification.

This gentrification is a real concern when increasing the *livability of urban ***areas: forces of supply and demand have made housing in some of the world’s most livable cities (e.g. Vancouver) the least affordable.

Any sincere effort to build the fair city must also confront the inequality that results from market forces.

Wealthy cities must provide affordable housing (and different kinds of housing) in even the most favoured neighborhoods. (p252)

Governments must step in with subsidized housing, rent controls, initiatives for housing co-operatives or other policy measures to address this residential segregation at the heart of many of today’s (2018) cities.

This mixing of different demographic groups for increased urban equity rarely happens without this political intervention, even though it is met with opposition at times. (p253)

The equity dividend

As wealthy people rediscover the convenience and pleasure of central city living, poor people are being pushed out to the urban fringe.

Cities that care must make aggressive and creative design interventions to make neighbourhoods serve everyone.

It’s about locking in affordable housing (through planning / housing projects) while gentrification continues.

The happy city program, with an aggressive focus on creating a fairer city, doesn’t just benefit the poor. It make life better for everyone. (p255)

It changes the attitude towards the city from one of pessimism to one of optimism. The city is subjective.

By spending resources and designing cities in a way that values everyone’s experience, life can get easier and more pleasant for everyone.

“We just have to decide who our cities are for. And to do that, we have to believe that they can change.” (p256)

11. Everything is connected to everything else

Breaking down the separation of uses that often characterises architecture and urban planning. (p257)

Sustainability is not a burden, the sustainable city can indeed improve our quality of life.

As much as we have tried to separate the functions of the city into discrete units spread out across the landscape, everything becomes inherently connected to everything else.

The ways we move, the things we buy, the pleasures we take, the trash we produce, the carbon we blow into the atmosphere and the economy itself are intertwined and interdependent”. (p258)

The projects of urban prosperity, sustainability and happiness really do converge in the complex weave of energy, mobility, economics and geometric systems that define city life.

Sustainability and a good quality of living can both result from the same interventions: focussing on the relationship between energy, efficiency and the things that make life better.

The happy city plan is an energy plan. It is a climate plan. It is a belt-tightening plan for cash-strapped cities. It is also an economic plan, a jobs plan and a corrective for weak systems. It is a plan for resilience.” (p259)

The green suprise

There is a connection between urban design, experience and the carbon energy system: the green city, low carbon city and the happy city might be the same destination. (p260)

Boosting quality of life and reducing a city’s environmental footprint are complementary goals and should be part of the same plan. (The happy city and climate goals also influence a city’s health and economic burdens). (p261-265)

There is no such thing as an externality

Jane Jacobs warned that the complex city can be thrown into an unhealthy imbalance by attempts to simplify it in form or function (book: Cities and the Wealth of Nations)

Classic sprawl depends on cheap energy, high energy consumption (and hence, translates to huge greenhouse gas emissions).

Sprawl development costs taxpayers more to build, but also more to maintain, as its high, dispersed demand forces a larger network of infrastructure to support it. (p266)

Policy makers, voters and cities need to find strength (rather than weakness) from the interconnectedness of land use, energy systems and economic budgets - a need to start to say no to (sprawl development) what once seamed like obvious paths to prosperity. (p268)

Jobs, money and geometry

By paying attention to the relationship between land, distance, scale and cash flow (by prioritising high-value, small plot and mixed use downtown plots over large, mono-use suburban dispersed plots: e.g. Walmart), Asheville regained its soul (a more connected, complex downtown) and good health (socioeconomic vibrancy). (p272)

Growth within limits

This is also a strategy for dealing with climate change.

Efforts to create nodes of job density, residential density and tax density also produce nodes of energy efficiency that lower the cost or running the city, and create a low carbon community. You create this low energy city by changing the city’s relationship with distance and with energy (as in Portland, OR and in North Vancouver City). (p272)

When cities find ways to mix housing, jobs and places together, carbon goals and lifestyle goals start to converge. (p273)

A compact, mixed land use, transit infused and low-carbon city that increases quality of life for its residents.

A city that combines proximity and complexity.

Body heat

Where energy production, consumption and human experience are drawn into a hedonic loop - solving the energy challenges human settlements create. (p276)

By embracing complexity and the inherent connectedness of city life (while instilling proximity in our cities), we can move well and save the world at the same time. (p227)

12. Retrofitting Sprawl

The happy city’s matrix of freedoms, rich public spaces, leisure time and safe streets isn’t of much use to people who live in the suburbs, far from denser, more connected city centres: especially given the recolonisation of the city centre by the wealthy is forcing the poor out into these suburbs, which excludes them. (p278)

Furthermore, the improvements for a happy city are much harder to pull off in the dispersed city of segregated functions, whose systems and forms are too inflexible to accommodate the urban revolution and too stretched and fast to make it affordable to invest there. (p278-9)

Sprawl repair

There is a need to convert the dispersed city to one that is a community that works for everyone, from different income brackets, skills and ages. (p281-2)

This is returning cities from a car scale to a human scale. (p282)

A true ‘sprawl repair’ addresses the systemic problems of sprawl (not an aesthetic solution) by mixing shopping, services and public space with housing to make the area walkable for its residents. It creates a critical mass of demand for transit (concentrates population) and links streets into surrounding networks and neighborhoods, making it easier to walk, and extending ease of living, health, sociability and connectivity across a larger area. (p283-4)

It offers true public space, managed by the local municipality, handing the power to the people - who can use it without fear of private corporate interests.

This sort of suburban retrofit isn’t a downtown or a streetcar neighborhood, but it does offer choice and freedom into the otherwise homogeneous sprawl. (p285)

The law of sprawl

There are contradictions in our preferences: we would prefer a walkable community, but we would also prefer a detached home with ample privacy and space. Sprawl retrofits can help to compromise between these preferences. (p285)

But, most of the plots have already been sold, zoned and occupied - locking the existing system of land use. For sprawl repairs to function, they need to be on a significant scale - which can mean rezoning and redesigning vast areas of land.

With stubborn property owners, even with compulsory purchase powers, the government can’t do this without a court battle or ethical concerns - hence retrofits grow from single owner dead and dying malls, in the US at least.

But, a bigger obstacle us that the system that but sprawl (subsidies, financial incentives and motivating laws) is still in place in many jurisdictions across the United States and Canada. The sprawl-repair vision is even illegal in places, given the strict county zoning laws in places like Mableton, Cobb County. (p286)

Code Wars

The power that shapes American urban form is the zoning code, not the people. The outcome these codes had was sprawl, forcing architects to destroy the human scale and social life of a city by limiting the buildings they could design in different places. To make great places again, they had to take over the code. A new code that encourages the mixing of landuse. (p288)

“The power of the zoning code: change the code and you change the city

New urbanists “called for compact, mixed-use, mixed-income neighbourhoods of walkable street networks, with transit and attractive public spaces, all framed by buildings they responded to the local culture and climate”. (p289)

“Thr greatest problem facing anyone who would repair sprawl remains the godlike power of code.”

But the New Urbanists' form-based zoning code does away with the strict segregation of uses and suggests how human activities should occur in a gradual spectrum from wilderness to city centre. This is a smart-code.

It ends the intrusion of rural forms (e.g. highways) into town centres and the downtown forms (e.g. apartment blocks) in the middle of nowhere. It offers developers and residents more certainty about what urban growth will look like, bringing consistency to urban scale. (p290)

Changing the game

Initiatives for sprawl continue in the US, propelled by a century of rules, guidelines and state-mandated community plans, despite widespread agreement that sprawl isn’t sustainable!

The battle to repair sprawl on a large scale means convincing the developers that it is profitable to build the mixed-use projects they have avoided for decades. (p293)

Lingering incentives for sprawl in the United States:

  • ‘Traffic impact exaction’ punishes density for creating more traffic
  • Accelerated depreciation tax deduction that gives developers a tax break for creating new buildings rather than renovating or reusing old ones
  • Home mortgage interest tax deduction that rewards those who can afford to buy new homes in the suburban fringe rather than buying cheaper, modest homes in older neighbourhoods or doing renovations. By encouraging homeowners to delay paying big mortgages, it helped cause the foreclosure crisis. By rewarding sprawl buyers, it also puts a big burden in municipalities who have to build lots of services to service horizontal growth - with these frequently overstretched and underfunded**.**
  • US government pouring tax dollars into highways and low-density infrastructure while spending a tiny fraction on urban rail and other transit services.

Now we need to incentivise mixed-use and walkable places. (p295) They also need to have certainly and attractive returns to encourage the investment needed for their development. (p296)

The aesthetic trap

We each have an idea of what the ideal town is supposed to look like, our perceived ideal relationship between architecture and the urban system represented by images in our heads rather than a deep consideration of the complex systems that make the place function in a particular way.

We exaggerate aesthetics, using it to judge the character and health of a place. We are drawn to and comforted by designs that remind us of good times in the past or imagination. (p296)

New Urbanist retrofits are wrapped in neo-traditional packages because their ideas are unfamiliar for many people: mixed-use, mixed-income, density and transit. Nostalgic, unthreatening forms gently build acceptance for progressive public goals.

But, our focus in aesthetics can blind us to crucial elements of design. (p297) Especially when form is chosen over function, creating places that feel like villages but don’t perform like one.

“The system is ultimately more important than the package it comes in, and the greatest hurdle for sprawl repair may be challenging the way each of us views the city."(p299)

Backlash and reality

Efforts to tackle the problems of sprawl in a systematic way have begun to draw outrage from conservative urbanists and libertarians, some finding a voice in the American Tea Party Movement. (p299)

In city after city, opponents to New Urbanism and ‘Smart Growth’ claim local planners are part of an international conspiracy to force people to abandon card, give up property rights and live in UN Mandated Habitation zones! How bizarre!

The city emerges in this dispute as an expression of political values, with the backlash grounded in a deep-seated mistrust of government and a fear of losing property rights and freedoms - tendencies not based in a clear view of reality, given their tax dollars are already being used to massively subsidise the sprawl model.

The city is grounded (at least partly) “in the ideas of the high modern European socialist Le Corbusier, evangelist of strict controls and segregation of land use, road geometry and city life.”

Libertarians should be assured that even if the sprawl-repair movement is widely successful, there will still be auto-oriented suburbs for those who prefer and can afford that way of living. (p300)

The fundamental relationship between urban form and individual freedom: “every urban dweller’s freedom to live, move and experience the city as he chooses is inherently conditioned by what every landowner does with his or her property.” (p301)

Achieving true freedom means paying more taxes to support a wider palette of mobility options. (p301)

Local zoning code retrofits are transparently empowering as they provide citizens with the tools to visualise the urban life they want and then go shape the city that will offer that life. “The new codes actually give people in growth centres more freedom to build up their own land than they had before.” (p301-2)

“The code warriors are gaining ground”, with over 300 cities in Canada and the United States having adopted a form of form-based code (bylaws in Canada), for at least some neighbourhoods.

The town is not just a picture and not just an idea, but a system for living that the residents can shape together. Their plan will use the momentum of development when there is economic growth. (p302)

I think form-based planning is the future for dispersed cities - making them more connected and diverse.

13. Save Your City, Save Yourself

“If you live out your life in the shared urban landscape, then you have a natural right to participate in shaping its future.” Lefebvre calls this being a citadin. He called for a restructuring of social, political and economic relations so the citizens take control of their urban future from the state. (p303)

We are, through the geography of our lives, natural stewards and owners of the city. (p304)

Some people stop waiting for mayors, planners or engineers to remake their streets and neighbourhoods - they take it into their own hands.

We make changes driven by our different needs - for some, they want to build a community that makes sense for them, rather than the one they were given by planners; others to gain a sense of belonging; some for safer spaces for their kids, others to save the planet; and all want more freedom to live and move as they please.

We, hence, each have the power to alter our city (coincidentally moving towards a happier city by tailoring it to our needs), and in doing that we may change ourselves. (p304)

The hegemony of the grid

“The grid was the fastest, simplest way to divide land so it could be commodified. Rectangular units were easy to survey, buy, sell and tax. They made it easier to provide services. The grid was a spectacular success as an economic tool, but it created some seriously unbalanced cities.”

“In town after town, planners subdivided, overlooked, or avoided public parks and plazas.” (p313)

A meeting place for the community is essential. It completes the life of a community by increasing social interactions with neighbours. (p320)

Epilogue: The Beginning

“The right to the city is far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city” - David Harvey, 2008, p322

“No age in the history of cities has been so wealthy”: never before have we used so much land, energy and resources and enjoyed the luxury of “private domesticity and mobility.”

“Despite all we have invested in this dispersed city, it has failed to maximize health and happiness.” - it is inherently dangerous (it has made life more expensive, it has made it harder to connect with people and it has made us more vulnerable to rising energy prices)

The dispersed urban system “has begun to endanger both the health of the planet and the well-being of our descendants”

The challenge is a design problem (in the way we build) and a psychological problem (in the way we think).

The challenge is made up of a tug-of-war between fear and trust; status aspirations and the cooperative impulse; the urge to retreat and the need to engage with other people. (p322)

Cities embody a philosophy of living, but also our cognitive frailties and the systematic errors we made when deciding what will make us happy in the long run. (p322-3)

“We have made mistakes” (p323)

  • Seduction by the wrong technologies
  • Giving up freedom for the illusion of speed
  • Valuing status over relationships
  • Stamping out complexity instead of harnessing it
  • Letting powerful people organize buildings, work, home and transportation systems around a too simplistic view of geography and urban life
  • Translating the uncertainty of city life into retreat instead of curiosity and engagement

“It is not too late to rebuild the balance of life in our neighborhoods and cities and, in so doing, to build a more resilient future.” (p323)

  • We need to consider curiosity, trust and cooperation
  • We need to acknowledge truths that have been forgotten in making our cities
  • We need to remember the value of trust and cooperation
  • We need privacy, but we also find our best selves in a group, team or community

The city that responds to these truths, respecting cooperation, is also a healthier place to live - in terms of our relationships, its insulation against economic hardships and the offer of a freedom to choose how we move and live. (p323-4)

“The struggle for the happy city is going to be long and difficult.” (p324)

  • The broken city is present in the practices of planners and developers
  • The broken city is also represented in law, code, urban structure and our own habits

The living city will result from a movement where we challenge the ways we move and live, and the legal and social codes that guide us.

“The champions of the happy city have begun to show us the way.” (p324)

  • Visionary mayors, planners and traffic engineers have demonstrated that we can transform the urban experience by changing the city’s hardware
  • By adopting new sets of rules about how to build places, hundreds of cities have abandoned the high modernist code of separation and segregation - beginning a course of slow, but definite change
  • People in neighborhoods have challenged the written and unwritten rules of how we move, live and share space - and as urban activists, they take design (and their future) back into their own hands

Victory for the happy, living city isn’t guaranteed, but is contributed by the reconsideration of the dispersed urban form.

Changing places

“You can reengineer your relationship with the city simply by changing your place in it” (p325)

  • Confronting your own habits and relationship with the city
  • Redefining your notion about what the good life is supposed to look like
  • Pursuing a different kind of happiness

It is a different course of urban activism in itself - impacting the reformer and the city (because everything is connected). (p325-6)

The geometry of a neighborhood can set the stage for a new relationship with the city. The density and mix of buildings / jobs, scale of streets and parks, frequency of buses, speed of roads and the relationship of the area to the rest of the city can constitute to a life-shaping system. A system that can make days easier, healthier and more connected; a system that reduces your carbon footprint on the city and the planet. (p328)

By giving to and embracing the new neighborhood, you strengthen it.

Some people arrive in the happy city by accident, some seek it in desperation. Others build it, while some fight for it. Some experience a conversion moment - as explored above - where the citizen realizes that their place in the city and the way that they move has great power in shaping their lives and indeed, the city.

“They realize that the happy city, the low carbon city and the city that will save us are the same place, and that they have the wherewithal to create it.”

“This is the truth that shines over the journey towards the happy city. We do not need to wait for someone else to make it.”

We build the happy city when we choose how and where to live, when we move a little closer, when we choose to move a little slower, when we put aside our fear of the city and other people and when we peruse it in our own lives, pushing the city to change with us.

“We build the happy city by living it.”