Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design by Charles Montgomery

(New York: Macmillan, 2013), 358


    1. The Mayor of Happy City

    2. 20th century’s dual urban legacy:



      • First, the city had been gradually reoriented around private automobiles.


      • Second, public spaces and resources had largely been privatized. Cars and mobile vendors took over public plazas and sidewalks. People had walled or fenced in what were once public parks. In an age where even most of the poor had televisions, common civic space was disregarded and degraded. Read more at location 106



    3. “A city can be friendly to people or it can be friendly to cars, but it can’t be both” Read more at location 115

    4. The city is a means to a way of life. It can be a reflection of all our best selves. It can be whatever we want it to be. It can change, and change dramatically. Read more at location 134

    5. “hedonic treadmill”: the natural human tendency to shift our expectations along with our changing fortunes. The treadmill theory suggests that the richer you get, the more you compare yourself to other rich people and the faster the wheel of desire spins beneath your feet, so that you end up feeling as though you haven’t made any progress. Read more at location 179

    6. Peñalosa’s argument was that too many rich societies have used their wealth in ways that exacerbate urban problems rather than solve them.Read more at location 192


    1. The City Has Always Been a Happiness Project

    2. Architecture offered a means to transcend worldly pain. Medieval churches made use of high walls and vaulted ceilings so that every visitor would have a personal experience of the Ascension. Even today, if you stand inside Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral, your eye will inevitably be drawn higher and higher until it reaches an inner roof above the nave. As Richard Sennett once pointed out, it is a journey all the way to the base of heaven. The message is clear: happiness awaits in the afterlife, not here on earth. But the medieval church carried with it another message: that the anchor of the city, the place that gave it meaning and connected it to heaven, was public. Often churches were surrounded with open space delineating the shift from secular to sacred. Here, in the shadows of the church, is where babies were abandoned and plague victims tolerated. Here is where you could beg for help if you were desperate. At the heart of the city—the transition zone between earth and heaven—was a promise of empathy.Read more at location 343

    3. Happiness, as expressed in philosophy and architecture, has always been a tug-of-war between earthly needs and transcendent hopes, between private pleasures and public goods. Read more at location 351

    4. Measures of well-being:



      • Self-acceptance, or how well you know and regard yourself


      • Environmental mastery—your ability to navigate and thrive in the world


      • Positive relations with others


      • Personal growth throughout life


      • Sense of meaning and purpose


      • Feelings of autonomy and independence Read more at location 548



    5. Of all of these, the most important psychological effect of the city is the way in which it moderates our relationships with other people. Read more at location 567

    6. But we should never forget this fact: even though the modern cosmopolitan city makes it easier than ever for individuals to retreat from neighbors and strangers, the greatest of human satisfactions lies in working and playing cooperatively with other people. No matter how much we cherish privacy and solitude, strong, positive relationships are the foundation of happiness. Read more at location 633

    7. What should a city accomplish after it meets our basic needs of food, shelter, and security?



      • The city should strive to maximize joy and minimize hardship.


      • It should lead us toward health rather than sickness.


      • It should offer us real freedom to live, move, and build our lives as we wish.


      • It should build resilience against economic or environmental shocks.


      • It should be fair in the way it apportions space, services, mobility, joys, hardships, and costs.


      • Most of all, it should enable us to build and strengthen the bonds between friends, families, and strangers that give life meaning, bonds that represent the city’s greatest achievement and opportunity.


      • The city that acknowledges and celebrates our common fate, that opens doors to empathy and cooperation, will help us tackle the great challenges of this century. Read more at location 654



  • Chapter 3 - The Broken Social Scene

    • the dispersed city is the most expensive, resource-intense, land-gobbling, polluting way of living ever built. Read more at location 728

    • Randy [who bought a house in dispersal cheap after the housing crisis] should have been an extremely happy man when I met him a couple of years later. But he was not, and his unhappiness speaks to the dispersed city’s power to fundamentally reorder social and family life. If you accept the key message from happiness science, which is that absolutely nothing matters more than our relationships with other people...Randy ignored the sunset in order to focus on that first merge [in his 3-4 hour commute]. Read more at location 782

    • The sociologist Robert Putnam warned back in 2000 that these networks of lighter relationships had been dwindling for decades. The trend has continued. People are increasingly solitary. In 1985 the typical American reported having three people he could confide in about important matters. By 2004 his network had shrunk to two, and it hasn’t bounced back since. Almost half the population say they have no one, or just one person, in whom they can confide. Read more at location 831

    • People who live in monofunctional, car-dependent neighborhoods outside of urban centers are much less trusting of other people than people who live in walkable neighborhoods where housing is mixed with shops, services, and places to work. Read more at location 849

    • Distance raises the cost of every friendly encounter. Let’s say that you and I want to meet for an ice-cream cone at the end of our workday before heading home for dinner. First we both must chart the geographic area each of us can reach in that time. Then we must see if our territories intersect. Then we need to figure out if the journey to and from a rendezvous point in that zone leaves enough time to make the meeting worthwhile. Each of us has an envelope of possibility on the space-time continuum. The more our envelopes intersect, the easier it is for us to actually see each other in person. Read more at location 877

  • Chapter 4 - How We Got Here

    • The city we saw from the Repo Tour bus is not a naturally occurring phenomenon. It is not organic. It is not an accident. It was not fashioned by the desires of citizens operating in a free market. It was shaped by powerful financial incentives, massive public investment, and strict rules defining how land and roads can be developed and used. But these are merely tools, put to work in the service of ideas about urban happiness that were born during an age of acute urban trauma. Read more at location 975

    • The first philosophy might be called the school of separation. Its central belief is that the good life can be achieved only by strictly segregating the various functions of the city so that certain people can avoid the worst of its toxicity. The other we might call the school of speed. It translates the lofty concept of freedom into a matter of velocity—the idea being that the faster you can get away from the city, the freer you will become. Read more at location 994

    • “We have not had a free market in real estate for eighty years,” Ellen Dunham-Jones, Georgia Tech professor of architecture and coauthor of Retrofitting Suburbia, told me. “And because it is illegal to build in a different way, it takes an immense amount of time for anyone who wants to do it to get changes in zoning and variance. Time is money for developers, so it rarely happens.” Read more at location 1060

    • Cities, like many systems, are prone to a phenomenon known as autopoiesis, which can be compared to a viruslike process of entrenchment, replication, and expansion. The dispersed city lives not only in the durability of buildings, parking lots, and highways, but also in the habits of the professionals who make our cities. Once the system of dispersal was established in early suburbs, it began to repeat itself in plan after plan—not because it was the best response to any particular place, but because of the momentum of autopoiesis. Read more at location 1156

  • Chapter 5 - Getting It Wrong

    • 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. It compares what we have now to what we had yesterday and what we might possibly get next. It compares what we have to what everyone else has. Then it recalibrates the distance to a revised finish line. But that finish line moves even when other conditions stay the same, simply because we get used to things. So happiness, in these economists’ particular formulation, is inherently remote. It never stands still. Read more at location 1244

    • 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. On the other hand, for a single person, exchanging a long commute for a short walk to work has the same effect on happiness as finding a new love.* Read more at location 1282

    • However, it is much easier to adapt to things that stay constant than to things that change. So we adapt quickly to the joy of a larger house because the house is exactly the same size every time we come in the front door. But we find it difficult to adapt to commuting by car, because every day is a slightly new form of misery, with different people honking at us, different intersections jammed with accidents, different problems with weather, and so on.” Read more at location 1289

    • When an activity is its own reward, it can actually feel better with every act of consumption. This is especially true in the social world. The more you see your friends, the more intimate and rich those friendships can become. Read more at location 1308

    • Unfortunately, when choosing how to live or move, most of us are not as free as we think. Our options are strikingly limited, and they are defined by the planners, engineers, politicians, architects, marketers, and land speculators who imprint their own values on the urban landscape. Read more at location 1406

    • presentism: we let what we see and feel today bias our views of the past and future. This commonly expresses itself as a tendency to assume that the ways we think and act will not change as time passes. Read more at location 1520

    • Even the suburban lawn is a threat: gasoline-powered lawn mowers emit eleven times as much air pollution as new cars. On average, suburbanites pump out about twice the greenhouse gas emissions of people living in dense city centers. Read more at location 1581

  • Chapter 6 - How To Be Closer

    • The natural view is now being prescribed for some of the most stressful built environments. When architects installed a mural depicting a meadowy scene in the booking area of the Sonoma County Jail in Santa Rosa, California, the guards had an easier time remembering things. Read more at location 1661

    • cities need green in sizes S, M, L, and XL. Otherwise the human ecosystem is incomplete. Read more at location 1847

    • Extreme intimacy—not just looking at nature, but actually touching or working with plants and dirt—is good for us in ways we never imagined. Read more at location 1868

    • Quite simply, biological density must be the prerequisite for architectural density. Read more at location 1895

    • People who say they feel that they “belong” to their community are happier than those who do not. And people who trust their neighbors feel a greater sense of that belonging. And that sense of belonging is influenced by social contact. Read more at location 2068

  • Chapter 7 - Convivialities

    • In 1962, around the time that New York’s freeway king, Robert Moses, was trying to push an expressway through the heart of Lower Manhattan, Copenhagen’s City Council took a step in the opposite direction. Read more at location 2285

    • 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.* The Internet has been a mixed blessing. If you use your computer, iPad, or mobile device much like TV, it has the same negative effect on you as TV. If you use your devices to interact with people, they can help support your close relationships—Read more at location 2357

    • triangulation, in which external stimuli are arranged in ways that nudge people close enough together to begin talking. Read more at location 2521

    • Donald Appleyard found a direct relationship between traffic and social life. Read more at location 2567

    • This is perhaps the most insidious way that the system of dispersal has punished those who live closer together. Most of the noise, air pollution, danger, and perceived crowding in modern cities occurs because we have configured urban spaces to facilitate high-speed travel in private automobiles. We have traded conviviality for the convenience of those who wish to experience streets as briefly as possible. This is deeply unfair to people who live in central cities, for whom streets function as the soft social space between their destinations. Read more at location 2587

    • Niels Torslov, told me that his department considers it a rounding success when most of the people they count on any particular street are not moving at all. It’s a sign that they’ve created a place worth being in. Read more at location 2594

    • The farther away the parking, the livelier the street. Read more at location 2634

  • Chapter 8 - Mobilicities I

    • In test after test he proved that the most powerful way to fix a dark mood is simply to take a brisk walk. “Walking works like a drug, and it starts working even after a few steps.” Read more at location 2800

    • The same is true of cycling, although a bicycle has the added benefit of giving even a lazy rider the ability to travel three or four times faster than someone walking, while using less than a quarter of the energy. 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. Read more at location 2803

    • most of us are overwhelmingly choosing the most polluting, expensive, and place-destroying way of moving. As I discussed in the previous chapter, cars, whether they are caught in congestion or moving fast and free, can rip apart the social fabric of neighborhoods. They are by far the biggest source of smog in most cities. They produce more greenhouse gas emissions per passenger mile than almost any other way of traveling, including flying by jet airliner. It seems preposterous that we would choose a way of moving that simultaneously fails to maximize pleasure while maximizing harm. Read more at location 2811

    • When designers try to maximize the number of cul-de-sacs in an area, they create a dendritic—or treelike—system of roads that feeds all their traffic into a few main branches. The system makes just about every destination farther away because it eliminates the most direct routes between them. Connectivity counts: more intersections mean more walking, and more disconnected cul-de-sacs mean more driving.* Read more at location 2846

  • Chapter 9 - Mobilicities II

    • Possession is becoming progressively burdensome and wasteful and therefore obsolete. —Buckminster Fuller, 1969 Read more at location 2978

    • The word for this condition is heteroscedasticity. It suggests that the bigger the size of any group, the harder it is to predict the variation in its characteristics or to find one solution to a problem involving huge numbers of independent variables and actors. “What heteroscedasticity tells us is that everything in cities is going to be a little bit complicated, a bit chaotic,” said Britton. “So the first thing you have to do is say, ‘Okay, I gotta be able to deal with chaos. There is no single answer to any problem in the city. The solution comes from a multiplicity of answers.’”* Read more at location 3008

    • “We don’t take shopping carts home after using them at the supermarket. We don’t cart around our own elevators or restaurants or airplanes. Why should we be forced by urban design to own cars and bicycles?” he asked. Read more at location 3133

    • What is true of many purchases—that we don’t want the thing so much as we want what it can do for us—is especially true for transportation. Whether it is a train or a bus or a bicycle or a car, any vehicle’s utility begins when it starts to move. Most private cars spend the vast majority of their life span sitting, doing nothing but costing their owners money in insurance, lease payments, parking, and depreciation. Not only do automobile owners need to earn substantially more just to be able to afford to drive, but we increasingly work in order to drive to and pay for fitness facilities to get the exercise that should be a side effect of the daily journey.* Read more at location 3146

  • Chapter 10 - Who Is The City For?
  • Chapter 11 - Everything is Connected to Everything Else

    • As much as we have tried to separate the functions of the city into discrete units spread out across the landscape, everything remains inherently connected to everything else. The ways we move, the things we buy, the pleasures we take, the trash we produce, the carbon we blow into the atmosphere, and the economy itself are intertwined and interdependent. Read more at location 3844

    • In fact, sustainability and the good life can be by-products of the very same interventions. Read more at location 3854

  • Chapter 12 - Retrofitting Sprawl

    • Such inanely simplistic rules mean there are an estimated eight parking spaces for every car in the United States. Read more at location 4251

  • Chapter 13 - Save Your City, Save Yourself

    • that the meeting place, the agora, and the village square are not trivial. They are not civic decoration or merely recreational. The life of a community is incomplete without them, just as the life of the individual is weaker and sicker without face-to-face encounters with other people.*Read more at location 4772


Topic: Architecture, Urban Planning