Want to make your city happy? The answer: Live near your office!

I live 992 metres from my workplace. I walk, or sometimes cycle, the 12 minute journey from my front door to my desk. I’m nearly always the last to arrive… sometimes beaten in the ‘late stakes’ by my colleagues Rob and Gareth, who also both live less than 15 minutes walk from our office. According to Charles Montgomery we must be the three happiest people in our office!

Today, as part of the theme ‘Emotions and the City’ award-winning journalist, author and former New York Lab Team member Charles Montgomery talked to us about how cities are being redesigned in the name of happiness and how to build urban happiness.

According to Charles, people who

  • live further from work have a lower life satisfaction
  • have more social time have lower levels of distress
  • live in friendly and trusting neighbourhoods are happier

Charles told us that the common thread between all of the people who died in the Chicago heat waves was that they were all socially isolated. He also told us that college students living in corridor dormitories/rooms were less happy than students living in small units/pods of rooms – the groups of six or eight students living together sharing a kitchen and bathroom created strong friendship and trusts groups.

Research undertaken by Charles in New York found that messy cluttered streets made people feel much more happy than when they were in nice clean modern streets. This was because people slowed down and enjoyed the streets. Renowned architect Jan Gehl has always believed that ‘velocity’ is the success to a street: the slower people travel the more they enjoy a street.

Charles told us that when a city has money they build roads because city decision-makers have cars and because cars are a status symbol but cars do not lead to happiness in a city. Charles talked about the transformation of Bogota and how Enrique Penalosa, the former Mayor, reconfigured Bogota for happiness by providing public transport equitable for all, providing a network of cycleways and by creating public social spaces for everyone.

Charles concluded by saying that:

  • People who live far from their workplace, who drive long distances to and from work, who live in low-density suburban residential developments far from their friends and family are less like to volunteer in their community, are less likely to be involved in city issues and have a lower sense of life satisfaction
  • People who live in cities where the Government is transparent and people feel engaged and included in city decisions have a greater sense of happiness.

It seems it’s not just about the design of our city but what we do within the design. Furthermore if are going to solve and address current, and future, urban challenges we really need to trust each other and work together… and of course walking to work!