Category Archives: Happy Cities Series

Happiness on a Post It

In my “Happiness of Cities” idea, I had wanted to ask people what makes them happy (in life and in cities).  Seems like Lorna Jane already stole my idea…

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I should ask the stores if I can use their post-its for my project.


Happy City: Bristol

Happy City is here to help you make the most of your street, your community, your neighbourhood, your city.

Happy City is all about bringing people together and helping them share what they know about increasing happiness. This is the place to get the ideas, solutions, inspiration and connections to make the change you want happen.

There’s a bunch of interesting and great community building projects >



3:1 = Happiness

I signed up to the June conference “Happiness and Its Causes” which explores the science and psychology of human happiness with the world’s leading thinkers.   Mostly I was keen to see the Dalai Lama in Brisbane, fascinated by some of the brain science, as well feeling like I am on my own quest for personal happiness.

I was watching one of the associated talks by Prof Barbara Fredrickson whose research says for every 1 heart wrenching emotion, we need 3 positive emotions to tip the scales back.

The aim is to get higher than 3, and talks about tools like mediation that can help self-generate positivity. The great thing is the ratio says that perfection is not possible (and that we must also have some bad to appreciate the good).  She also says that expression of negativity/upset can also be a way to move past things.

Her website lets you measure your own ratio –
My ratio was not good, but with more awareness of this, I’m testing this 3:1 theory out in dealing with my own upsets.

It also came to mind as relevant to my work around urban design evaluation.  Noone can really agree on good and bad case studies of design, and perhaps this 3:1 could be a good ratio to use.

It every design, someone could argue a “flaw” or some element that could have been done better, but as long as the positivity outweighs, it would be in the “good” basket.

I guess like a pro-cons list this ratio could be used for anything.  I imagine this ratio also works with people/relationships, with those we most love and spend time with are those likely to have 3:1 or higher ratios in interests, values, memories, positive traits, communication etc.

3:1…It’s an interesting concept.  The willingness to work on or accept ratios then becomes a choice.

Happy Cities

I had started writing the Happy Cities series, on a theory that most ‘happiness activities’ would have to further  support how important urban public spaces are.   Continuing the metaphor that a city could be like a person, I was going to deconstruct Karim Rashid’s “Design Your Self”.  Apply personal self-help to city self-help.

He breaks down the chapters, to functions that I thought could be a way to deconstruct cities.  He uses the following –

  • Live (home, de-materialization, diet, fitness),
  • Love (social life, beauty, fashion, sex, death)
  • Work (education, inspiration, workspace, finances)
  • Play (travel, shopping, colour, sleep & dream)

EXAMPLE of my thoughts were –

Fitness- “Exercise does not have to be difficult or time consuming” – could be a discussion of active transport

Sex- “Be open minded” – could be a discussion of cities being open and creative to new ideas

Finances – “Don’t be seduced by things you don’t need” – could be a discussion about infrastructure investments etc etc

THE THING IS, I’m now thinking happy cities don’t exist. And can’t.

In my recently personal questioning of “where in the world should I be??”, I have been thinking more about whether PLACE (physical design) makes us happy?  It must contribute somewhat – I wouldn’t be an urban designer if I didn’t believe that a little.
But it doesn’t DEFINE it.

It’s a combination of people and place, that makes me happy.
A place becomes important to me if people who I love are there or I have fond attachments to it.

People define the feeling of a city.  Moods defines it.

For example – On a crappy depressed day, where I have cried in parks, hated myself and doubted the Universe – the crowds, the streets all feel like too much and this PLACE feels not nice. Once I cleared the personal angst and was happy again, then all of the sudden the PLACE feels magical again, and I want to make the most of it.

It’s the same PLACE, the same city. Nothing changes except prespective.

So what does that mean for urban design, and making places for people to feel good??
I think it means, we could never please everyone. You can’t make everyone happy.

BUT still worth trying for.

Happy Cities Series: Writing Cities

The last happiness activity to cover is writing.

Surprised I left this one to last, since I do like to write.

I write TOO much.  Streams of emails my poor friends cop.  I’m sure people just stop reading them at some point. Pages of letters.  I felt I started to write and say much more through doing Landmark, especially in sharing personal thoughts but in writing about the realms of urban design that doesn’t feel especially new.   I use to write emails to the entire company at Tract.  I began to blog for streeteditors to share urban planning ideas and  I wrote some articles for QLD Planner.  My dream is still an article in Metropolis, GOOD, or Monocle Magazine.  I wrote a lot for Renovate the Neighbourhood Book at IwB.  Then I created this blog to write.  I would like to write a book one day too.  I starting writing and blogging because I wanted to share ideas and I thought most urban planning writing was boring.   I just think a lot and writing is a way to get it out of my head.  Writing is some freedom.  To share myself.  It’s an expression.  Though recently it is also a communication that can be misread.

So linked closely to “reading cities”,  a “writing city” ought to have things like

Access to media and outlets of writing and reporting

A culture fostering the writing of local stories.

A city that supports diversity in people and languages

Internet access for online publishing

Book and publishing industries to support writers

A great mail system.  I try to send postcards and real letters now as there is some missing art to real mail and handwritten things.  No “delete” to hand writing which I kind of love.

A vibrant city that is full of interesting events, culture, happenings to reflect and write about

Happy Cities Series: Swimming Cities

A swimming city obviously is about water.

It is stinking hot in New York and I would like a pool, right now!  I’m not the best swimmer but swimming is likely a happiness activity because it changes context – you can float, weight is different, and it is immersive.  There is a freedom of exploration that comes with it.    It is mostly associated with summer at beaches, water parks and pools to me.

A swimming city would have:

Access to natural rivers, lakes, beaches safe enough to swim in. Traveling to various places overseas, I have definitely appreciated some of natural assets in Queensland much more. While in Toronto, seemed like noone really swam in Lake Ontario.

Access to public pools. I overheard a conversation saying New York pools have an early bird special, that is free before a certain time (8am?).

Pools integrated into landscape. I think I worked at Tract Consultants long enough to continue to be big fan of Cairns Lagoon (pictured) and also like Southbank’s beach- there is reasons why these pool are successful.  Largely I think because they aren’t treated as just a blue box, but as an urban design feature.  Though having said that one of the coolest pool designs I did blog about years ago was the Bathing Ship in Berlin

Learn to swim education.

I can’t actually swim that well but would be something I want to improve.  In a community planning class, many years ago in Inala, it was revealed that many kids of migrants would often not learn to swim, if their parents could not.  My parents can’t and we are certainly not a water-sports kind of family.    While interviewing with Rockaway Alliance, the director also described how many people in that low income community could not swim.  So despite living near the longest strength of natural beach in New York, people would often avoid the water, and kids were taught that it was dangerous or not a place to be. In doing so the beach probably goes unappreciated and its values (environmental and social) become less strong in a community which lives right near it.