Urbanists have often touted the notion that city living makes us happier and healthier, but is there any real science to back this up? After all, historically cities haven’t gotten much love. They have been viewed as havens for crime, spreaders of the plague, and cesspools of poverty. Famously, the camera flash was used in the late 19th century to photograph, for the first time, the slum dwellers of New York in Jacob Riis’ photojournalistic project How the Other Half Lives. This project brought into the homes of typical everyday people the views of those living in extreme poverty, often only a few streets away. The anti-city stigma extends into modern culture, and the 20th century rise of the suburbs is proof that people feel they will be happier if they can get away from all the social ills of the city.
Charles Montgomery has spent five years of study looking to answer the question: Does City Living make us happy? His conclusions are available in a new book being released later this month titled Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design, available in both hardcover and kindle. He looks at the ways that different measures can be applied to find out what makes someone happy, and how we can qualify something that is, in the most personal sense of the word, subjective. It’s part city planning, part neuroscience, part sociology, and a few other parts thrown in.
Montgomery makes some very interesting points, talking about how the correlation between cities and happiness isn’t as black and white as it seems. We’re also never quite satisfied with what we have.
This interview was done on WNYC in New York on the Leonard Lopate Show, and we have uploaded it here for ease of listening. It’s almost a half hour long, but it’s an excellent interview. I’ve already pre-ordered the kindle book and am anxious to read it.