Sunday, June 8, 2014

The city: A happiness project?

Montgomery's new book - Happy City - provides an antidote to dispersed cities
During a hectic month of business travel with little time for blogging I  read the recent book by Charles Montgomery, Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design.

Montgomery says "If we are to escape the effects of dispersal, then dense places have got to meet our psychological needs better than sprawl."

That idea resonated during an afternoon walk in the prairie city of Brandon, Manitoba where I worked this week. Brandon is one of those mid-western cities with wide streets and sprawl suburbs. Yet even here I found an interesting (and dense) lower income multi-family townhouse project that Montgomery would appreciate.

Play areas inside the lower income multi-family housing. Good visibility, easy access
There is a tendency to think of low income, multi-family housing as crime-ridden. Yet this attractive, well designed multi-family complex had plenty of social mojo. Kids enjoyed a playground in clear view of nearby windows, walkways and grounds were clean, and dozens of people enjoyed their small front yards, barbecues, and common garden areas.

Interior courtyard, green and clean
Police told me there were few calls for service here even though it housed 300 residents in a hundred units, very high density compared to the nearby sprawl.

Nearby, as Montgomery might predict, a traditional suburb was vacant, graffitied, and sparse. In my hour-long walk there I uncovered only a few people, mostly working on cars. Few streets had sidewalks and I saw no one on their front lawns.

A few blocks away in a traditional suburb - Millennial messages
The New York Times says about Happy City, "It was only a matter of time before someone figured out that if there were new things to say about happiness and a new interest in the evolution of urban life, the two subjects could be linked together." Montgomery has chapters on How to be Closer, Convivialities, and Redesigning for Freedom. They fit what I saw here.

Adjacent streets - no sidewalks, fencing to isolate the road

2 Replies so far - Add your comment

Anonymous said...

Good examples! but a small comment about your first image above. Fall-off zone from the slide looks dangerously close to the fence. And...if the designers had placed a horizontal top to the fence at seating height, what a welcome addition so that parents or care-givers can sit close to small children in the playground. As always, details matter!

Greg Saville said...

Ah, yes, you are right. I like that idea for horizontal top. What a great detail. North American designers have spent so much time building triple garages and sprawling suburbs, they have poor design skills when it comes to the small scale elan.

Though I think it's possible the fall-off distance to the fence was more a product of my poor photography skills.

Thanks Anon.