The Six Design Keys to Resident Happiness

A new book on how urban design can create resident happiness details the six keys to planning and sustainability. We provide you with an overview


What Happened?

Charles Montgomery launched a book called Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design discussing changes implemented to the urban design of Bogota, Colombia, that were intended to make residents happier and enjoy a higher quality of life. Montgomery’s book links urban design strategies to empirical evidence suggesting how cities are designed can impact the happiness of residents.

The Goal

While spending time in Bogota, Colombia, Montgomery witnessed the city’s mayor adopt progressive policies to improve residential quality of life. These changes included:

  • Preventing highways from being built through the heart of the city
  • Adding miles of bike lanes
  • Opening up space for parks and pedestrian plazas

After watching the plans be put into action and measuring the sentiments of residents during the aftermath, Montgomery was able to extract six takeaways city planners should consider when urban happiness is the focus of an urban design or redevelopment project. The recipe calls for all plans to promote and enable:

  • Joy
  • Health
  • Freedom
  • Resilience
  • Equity
  • Social connections

In an interview with The Atlantic Cities, Montgomery discusses his recommendations and calls out common misconceptions that can lead to urban unhappiness.

Happy and Efficient are Synonymous

Many urban leaders discuss major changes to community infrastructure and operations in response to climate change and resource scarcity as potential sacrifices to current amenities. Montgomery argues that cities equipped with technologies to reduce emissions and make better use of resources will generate happier residents through better performance and reduced risks.

Similarly, there are many aspects of a city that can make residents happy more effectively than higher paychecks such as shorter commutes, efficient public transit or easier access to green spaces. Even small changes such as adding corner parks throughout densely populated neighborhoods have a significant impact on quality of life and make it easier for residents to embrace a community and nurture its growth.

Build Happiness Piecemeal

When questioned about his ideal utopia, Montgomery expressed admiration for the smaller, mixed-use towns that are pedestrian friendly and not so big that mass transit and traffic congestion become a concern. Providing both multi unit buildings and stand-alone homes diversifies the community while ensuring adequate density per acre to make better use of space, resources and infrastructure.

Looking at cities worldwide that are demonstrating some of Montgomery’s tactics, the author pointed out Copenhagen’s traffic solutions that support a rising population of cyclists. A suburb of Freiberg in Germany forced residents to park their cars in parking lots on the margins of the city to ensure the majority of traffic internally is on foot. Finally, residents of Davis, California, have removed fences to create communal green spaces in their enlarged backyard.

Make It Pretty

Another way for urban design to play a role in ensuring high quality of life for residents is by opening up public space for artistic expression. In Sweden, local officials are teaming up with artists of all trades to implement creative, unique installations that offer functionality to the community as well as something pretty to look at.

One trend is known as urban furniture design. Artists and engineers create useful items that can be placed in parks, public transit stops, schools or on the sidewalk that are serve a purpose. The designs are far more creative than standard park benches, garbage cans or mailboxes, but offer the same functionality.

New Design Strategies

Gov1 has reported on urban design initiatives that offer economic benefits, address environmental concerns and increase pedestrian safety.