Did you know that living in a city is actually pretty bad for your happiness? Studies show that you’re more likely to be happy the smaller the city that you live in. But with 5 billion people living in cities by 2030, is there a way we can change the unhappiness found in cities?
Actually, there is. Urban design.
Urban design isn’t just about the best place to build a road or a new sewer. In fact, if it’s done correctly, urban design can make an entire city happier and healthier. And it doesn’t need everyone to be a millionaire at their dream job. In fact, building a happy city is a lot less pie-in-the-sky dreaming and a lot more sustainable, healthy transportation.
In 1998, Enrique Peñalosa was elected mayor of Bogotá, the capital of Colombia and the bustling home of some 6.7 million people. But when Peñalosa was elected, Bogotá was facing huge challenges as a community. It had too many cars, so commuting times were enormous and pollution was terrible, and kidnapping and murder were far too common. So Peñalosa decided to redesign the very fabric of the city. He made it extremely difficult to drive by only letting people commute via car three times a week and banning cars completely for no car days. To make up the difference, he hugely expanded the cycle infrastructure and built the city’s first public transit system.
All of a sudden, streets that had only heard the rumble of car engines were alive with the noise of kids playing and cyclists chatting. Commuting time was halved, and the murder rate fell (even as the country got more violent).
Peñalosa built a city where the bike was the vehicle of choice. But did this actually make people happier?
In short, yes. The longer someone’s car commute, the less happy they are. Long distance car commuters are 40 percent more likely to get divorced. Drivers during peak rush hour experience higher stress levels than fighter pilots who are over enemy territory. On the other hand, commuters who get to work under their own steam exhibit far less stress and have a generally more positive psychological wellbeing.
Urban designers have a chance to change the fabric of a city. And if we let them, they can design a city that benefits everyone’s health, their psychological wellbeing and their safety.
Turns out you can design happiness.