I read this book just after reading Walkable City. Both of these have served as my introduction to urbanism and city planning. In addition to city planning this book is more broadly about human happiness and economics. In the United States, “economic growth” is dogma. Many believe the end of economic growth justify the means. But what is the point of economic growth if people generally unhappier and unhealthier? What if short-term econonomic growth in a quarter-by-quarter economy comes at the expense of long-term economic growth?
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The dream of riches, Peñalosa complained, served only to make Bogotans feel bad.
Peñalosa promised neither a car in every garage nor a socialist revolution. His promise was simple. He was going to make Bogotans happier. “And what are our needs for happiness?” he asked. “We need to walk, just as birds need to fly. We need to be around other people. We need beauty. We need contact with nature. And most of all, we need not to be excluded. We need to feel some sort of equality.”
This was a gospel of transformative urbanism. The city itself could be a device for happiness. Life could be improved, even amid economic doldrums, by changing the shapes and systems that defined urban existence.
Peñalosa’s first and most defining act as mayor was to declare war: not on crime or drugs or poverty, but on private cars. “A city can be friendly to people or it can be friendly to cars, but it can’t be both,” he announced.
In the third year of his term Peñalosa challenged Bogotans to participate in an experiment, a día sin carro. As of dawn on February 24, 2000, all private cars were banned from city streets for the day.
It was the first day in four years that nobody was killed in traffic. Hospital admissions fell by almost a third. The toxic haze over the city thinned. People still got to work, and schools reported normal attendance. Bogotans enjoyed the day so much that they voted to make it a yearly affair, and to ban all private cars during rush hour every day by 2015.
The urban shake-up that began with the mortgage crisis in 2008 hit the newest, shiniest, most sprawling parts of the American city the hardest.
The sprawl city requires cheap energy, cheap land, and cheap materials, and the days of cheap are over.
A man could achieve pure happiness only by reaching the height of his potential, and that meant not just thinking virtuously but behaving virtuously too.
Adam Smith warned that it was a deception to believe that wealth and comfort alone would bring happiness.
He found that people who claimed to be happy tended to have more blood flowing to that left prefrontal region than to the right side.
Of all the ways they passed their days, having sex made the women happiest of all, with socializing coming a close second. What made them least happy? Commuting to work.
Inside Disneyland, even today, every architectural detail, every view, every transportation experience, every sensation—right down to the texture of the pavement and the scent of the air—was designed with the express purpose of tipping the hedonic scale.
We are left with the question of authenticity: If you’re happy, does reality matter?
People who are well educated rate their happiness higher than those who aren’t. Employed people are happier than unemployed people—
Life satisfaction is strongly influenced by location.* People in small towns are generally happier than people who live in big cities. People who live next to the ocean report being happier than those who don’t. Living under the flight path of commuter jets is terrible for happiness. Persistent wind is bad, too.
when it comes to life satisfaction, relationships with other people beat income, hands down.
Just going from being friendless to having one friend or family member to confide in had the same effect on life satisfaction as a tripling of income.
Our trust in neighbors, police, governments, and even total strangers has a huge influence on happiness—again, much more than income does.
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.
For every new urban plaza, starchitect-designed tower, or sleek new light-rail network, there are a hundred thousand cul-de-sacs out in the dispersed city.
In short, the dispersed city is the most expensive, resource-intense, land-gobbling, polluting way of living ever built.
The average exurban family needs at least one more car than do families who live close to where they work, shop, study, and play. That family also spends twice as much just getting around in order to meet its daily needs.
(It’s also a reason that the farther a house was from a vibrant city center, the more likely it was to experience foreclosure during the crash,
Investing in a detached home on the urban edge is like gambling on oil futures and global geopolitics.
As much as we complain about other people, there is nothing worse for mental health than a social desert.
cities. A Swedish study found that people who endure more than a forty-five-minute commute were 40 percent more likely to divorce.
People’s new homes were so big that they created a whole new layer of housekeeping, and so expensive that they forced their owners to work harder to keep them.
Humans do not perceive the value of things in absolute terms. We never have. Just as our eyes process the color and luminosity of an object relative to its surroundings, the brain constantly adjusts its idea of what we need in order to be happy.
We have been hardwired for active dissatisfaction.
In fact, Stutzer and Frey found that a person with a one-hour commute has to earn 40 percent more money to be as satisfied with life as someone who walks to the office.
Quick: Which would make you happier—living in California or the U.S. Midwest?
Californians and midwesterners report pretty much the same level of life satisfaction.
The biggest danger is, by its nature, the least exciting. It is the sickness that comes from doing nothing.
aside from sedentary Saudi Arabians and some South Pacific Islanders, Americans are now the fattest people on the planet.
killer drivers are so common in sprawl that the carnage they create far exceeds the damage done by killers who use other weapons. In fact, someone who walks out her door on the edges of sprawl suburbia is much more likely to die at the hands of a stranger than someone moving through most American central cities or inner suburbs. The only difference is that most of suburbia’s killers didn’t mean it.
Here’s an image that sticks: imagine a loaded Boeing 747 crashing every three days, killing everyone aboard. That’s how many people die on U.S. highways every year.
rational actor would be terrified of suburban roads.
The result: drivers kill four times as many pedestrians on spacious suburban residential streets than on the narrow streets of traditional neighborhoods, because those spacious roads make driving faster feel safer.
And it is not collisions that kill people, but collisions at high speed.
A pedestrian hit by a car going 35 miles per hour is ten times as likely to die than if he was hit by a car going 25 miles per hour.
The average time it takes for new urban highway capacity to fill up with new demand? Five to six years.
We are using so much of the earth’s raw material that we are dooming future generations to poverty and hardship. It would take nine planets to supply all we needed if everyone ate, built, traveled, and threw stuff away as Americans do.
On average, suburbanites pump out about twice the greenhouse gas emissions of people living in dense city centers.
people who live in areas with more parks are more helpful and trusting than people who don’t, regardless of their income or race. Nature is not merely good for us. It brings out the good in us.
What is crucial for healthy living, she insists, is not quantity, but regular exposure, daily doses of nature. So the trick is in finding ways to infuse nature, and nature complexity, into denser places.
That made Vancouver the only major city in North America without a single highway running through its core.
Part of what made Vancouver’s vertical experiment both unique and desirable was the way it accommodated residents’ biophilic needs.
One big park won’t do. “We can’t just build Central Park and say, ‘Well, we’re done,’” Kuo insisted. “Nature has to be part of your life. It has to be part of your daily habitat and routine.”
If you search hard enough for places that balance our competing needs for privacy, nature, conviviality, and convenience, you end up with a hybrid, somewhere between the vertical and horizontal city.
After the Second World War, the capital of Denmark had embraced dispersal as fervently as any American city. Everyone bought a car, and suburbs spilled out from the city’s medieval heart.
“We found that if you make more road space, you get more cars. If you make more bike lanes, you get more bikes. If you make more space for people, you get more people and of course then you get public life.”
Tellingly, the word community is increasingly used to refer to groups of people who use the same media or who happen to like a certain product, regardless of whether its members have actually met.
Television, that great window to the world, has been an unequivocal disaster for happiness. The more TV you watch, the fewer friendships you are likely to have, the less trusting you become, and the less happy you are likely to be.
every urban landscape is a collection of memory- and emotion-activating symbols.
Human bones have evolved to withstand impact with hard surfaces up to a speed of about twenty miles per hour, which is faster than a reasonably fit person can run.* So it is natural to get anxious when confronted with hard objects moving faster than that.
Participants begin to ask what streets are for, and they invariably seize upon the answer that Copenhageners found decades ago: streets are for whatever we decide they are for, and central cities need not accept the discomforts thrust on them by dispersal.
No wonder four in ten Americans actually claim to love their cars.
One group of commuters reports enjoying themselves more than everyone else. Their route to happy mobility is simple. These are people who travel on their own steam like Robert Judge. They walk. They run. They ride bicycles.
Why would traveling more slowly and using more effort offer more satisfaction than driving? Part of the answer exists in basic human physiology. We were born to move—not merely to be transported,
The psychologist has devoted his life to the study of human moods. In test after test he proved that the most powerful way to fix a dark mood is simply to take a brisk walk.
We can literally walk ourselves into a state of well-being. The same is true of cycling,
A bicycle can expand the self-propelled travelers’ geographical reach by an astounding nine or sixteen times. Quite simply, a human on a bicycle is the most efficient traveler among all machines and animals.
Few places design travel behavior as powerfully as Atlanta. The average working adult in Atlanta’s suburbs now drives forty-four miles a day.† Ninety-four percent of Atlantans commute by car.
Surveys in the United States and Canada reveal that transit riders are the most miserable commuters of all.
It’s just that decades of underinvestment mean that the typical transit journey is crowded, slow, uncertain, or uncomfortable.
administrators typically choose the most utilitarian-looking materials for bus interiors and stations—even when attractive finishes are no more expensive—simply to avoid the appearance of having wasted money.
So Geller and his colleagues set out to create a network of “low-stress” bikeways that either physically separated cyclists from cars or slowed cars down past the speed of fear on shared routes. It worked. Commuting by bike more than doubled in Portland between 2000 and 2008.
Here is where equity and efficiency collide: because of their light footprint, infrastructure for walkers and cyclists costs only a tiny fraction of auto infrastructure to build and maintain. So cyclists and pedestrian commuters who pay property and income tax actually end up subsidizing their car-driving neighbors.
In the fair city, people who share space on transit enjoy the right-of-way on congested roads. In the fair city, streets are safe for everyone, especially children.
In the fair city, everyone has access to parks, shops, services, and healthy food.
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.
Then I realized that the power that shapes our city is in the code, not in the people. Miami looks the way it does, and Savannah the way it does, Paris the way it does, and New York City the way it does, and San Francisco the way it does, because of codes,”
change the code and you change the city.
The New Urbanists were determined to undo the modernists’ work. They wrote a manifesto calling for compact, mixed-use, mixed-income neighborhoods of walkable street networks, with transit and attractive public spaces, all framed by buildings that responded to the local culture and climate.
The greatest problem facing anyone who would repair sprawl remains the godlike power of code. Code is to the city what an operating system is to a computer.
So the battle for American cities has moved from architectural drafting tables to the dense, arcane pages of the zoning codebooks.
Rather than totally replacing the county’s old code, it now runs alongside it: property developers can choose which code they wish to have applied to their project applications.
But the imposition of the grid or any other plan from on high has another, ultimately more profound effect on the people who must inhabit it: it estranges them from the process of shaping their own world.
that great irony of the American city: a nation that celebrates freedom and weaves liberty into its national myth rarely gives regular people the chance to shape their own communities.
Scant few neighborhoods in North America feature places that draw people together regularly for anything other than buying stuff.
But nobody had fathomed just how deadly it was to be friendless. “We found, if you’re socially isolated, your risk for heat wave mortality goes up sevenfold,”
We have made mistakes. We have been seduced by the wrong technologies. We gave up true freedom for the illusory promise of speed. We valued status over relationships. We tried to stamp out complexity instead of harnessing it.
We let the fear of being uncomfortable, inconvenienced, or hurt guide us into cities that not only isolate us but rob us of all the ease and pleasure and richness we might enjoy if the city were just a little bit more layered, a little bit more complex, a little bit messier.
It dawned on Schmidt that the less money he made, the better his life was becoming.
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 toward the happy city. We do not need to wait for someone else to make it. We build it when we choose how and where to live. We build it when we move a little bit closer. We build it when we choose to move a little slower. We build it by choosing to put aside our fear of the city and other people. We build the happy city by pursuing it in our own lives and, in so doing, pushing the city to change with us. We build it by living it.