Creating Happy Cities
The Happiness Research Institute
May 16, 2019
At the Smart Inspiration Day conference at the Smart Cities Institute in Liege, senior analyst Anne delivered a perspective that the “Smart City” is the “Happy City”, in her talk “How to: Happy Cities”. Grounding her argument in happiness research, Anne demonstrates that the smart city and the happy city are two intrinsically linked concepts.
To introduce her talk, Anne proffered answers to two prominent questions: “why is happiness becoming the new measure of progress?”, and “how can we measure happiness?”. Her responses gave a general introduction to happiness research and also informed the audience of the topic of happiness metrics as a more comprehensive measure of wellbeing than the traditional metrics, such as GDP.
Why is the “Smart City” the “Happy City”?
Anne elucidates that the smart city context can work with the happiness agenda to enable the citizens of city to become happier. The way in which we design our cities should be premised on creating an environment which enables societies to be as happy as possible, and thus improve their citizens’ lives. The examples given by Anne in the talk include, recycling and inviting unity, since by inviting people together we are encouraging them to participate in things which have the potential to increase their happiness.
What is the relationship between happy cities and emotional health?
Anne follows with a discussion of emotional health and loneliness in the smart city context. In a wealthy, Western culture, it all boils down to how we can get people to become less lonely and happier. From happiness research on the whole, we know that satisfaction with social relationships is one of the best predictors of happiness, thus social isolation is one of the main drivers of misery. This is supported by the findings from a study conducted by the Happiness Research Institute in 2013 of Dragør; a Danish municipality outside Copenhagen. During the study, we measured the subjective wellbeing and quality of life of the people of Dragør, identified challenges and formulated recommendations. The main challenge we found for happiness in Dragør was social isolation. Thus, leading us to conclude that social inclusion is the key to a happy city. Anne identified some of the ways in which we can enable people to bring others together, for instance creating social spaces and facilitating togetherness are initiatives which will inevitably create inclusivity to combat social isolation.
How does Copenhagen lead by example?
Anne used Copenhagen to exemplify ways to enable the happy life concretely. Copenhagen successfully enables better lives for its citizens through enhancing liveability. Some examples used by Anne to exemplify are the centrally located harbour baths across the city, in which Copenhageners can make the most of the opportunity to swim with peace of mind that the water is safe, thanks to the system which checks the water quality daily. Another component of liveability in Copenhagen, and a symbol of Danish culture: the bike. Anne explains there are five times as many bikes as there are cars in Copenhagen, and 75% of cyclists bike all year round in Copenhagen.
Anne’s concluding remark is something to remain aware of: in a Western context, the most successful cities will be the ones who most efficiently convert economic wealth into wellbeing.