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

Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design

byCharles Montgomery

Hardcover | November 12, 2013

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Charles Montgomery’s Happy City will revolutionize the way we think about urban life.

After decades of unchecked sprawl, more people than ever are moving back to the city. Dense urban living has been prescribed as a panacea for the environmental and resource crises of our time. But is it better or worse for our happiness? Are subways, sidewalks and condo towers an improvement on the car-dependence of sprawl?

The award-winning journalist Charles Montgomery finds answers to such questions at the intersection between urban design and the emerging science of happiness, during an exhilarating journey through some of the world’s most dynamic cities. He meets the visionary mayor who introduced a “sexy” bus to ease status anxiety in Bogotá; the architect who brought the lessons of medieval Tuscan hill towns to modern-day New York City; the activist who turned Paris’s urban freeways into beaches; and an army of American suburbanites who have hacked the design of their own streets and neighborhoods.

Rich with new insights from psychology, neuroscience and Montgomery’s own urban experiments, Happy City reveals how our cities can shape our thoughts as well as our behavior. The message is as surprising as it is hopeful: by retrofitting cities and our own lives for happiness, we can tackle the urgent challenges of our age. The happy city can save the world--and all of us can help build it. 

Charles Montgomery is a journalist and urban experimentalist whose writings on cities, psychology, culture, and history have appeared in magazines and journals around the world. His first book, The Last Heathen, won the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non-fiction. Among his numerous awards is a Citation of Merit from the Canadian Met...
Title:Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban DesignFormat:HardcoverDimensions:368 pages, 9.28 × 6.22 × 1.21 inPublished:November 12, 2013Publisher:Doubleday CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0385669127

ISBN - 13:9780385669122

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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Path to Happiness; Road to Ruin It’s been almost a decade since journalist and author Charles Montgomery published his debut book, the Charles Taylor Prize winning The Last Heathen.  Fortunately for us he has spent much of that time researching and experiencing urban life at its best and worst, and in focussed, insightful, and engaging prose he tells us how urban design enhances or detracts from our daily lives.  Happy City is not about the environment, healthy living, or meeting our neighbors, though these subjects are covered.  Happy City is about us, about how we live our lives and why, which makes it inherently fascinating.  Why do we do the things we do, especially those things which detract from our happiness?  It turns out our grand urban design may have us traveling - literally - in the wrong direction. A few quotes from the first half of Montgomery’s book outline his thesis.  "A city can be friendly to people or it can be friendly to cars....”  "The way we organize most cities actually encourages individuals to make choices that make everyone's life harder."  “The most dynamic economy of the twentieth century produced the most miserable cities..." which shows "...just how dangerous it can be to leave the design of public life to private hands." Like bestselling financial author Michael Lewis (Moneyball), Montgomery populates his story with colorful characters, such as Enrique Penalosa, the mayor of Bogota, Columbia, who is introduced on his bicycle “jumping curbs and potholes, riding one-handed, weaving across the pavement, and barking into his cell phone while his pin-striped trousers flapped in the breeze.”  Riding his success with Bogota's urban renewal, Penalosa becomes important as “one of the central figures in a movement that is changing the structure and soul of cities around the world,” and Montgomery returns to him and others like him throughout the book. Like the best travel writers - Paul Theroux, for example - Montgomery has a poetic sense of place, transporting readers along with him to countries, cities, towns, and intersections.  It is here - in New York, Paris, Vancouver, Main-street Disneyland and dozens of other places - that successful urban design springs to life, and we imagine ourselves standing in traffic-free Times Square or sipping coffee in a Copenhagen street cafe.  (The first chapter alone made me want to visit Bogota to see Penalosa’s civic transformation firsthand.)  The photographic examples - especially the before and after pictures - are captivating, and act as repeated exclamation marks to the narrative.  Sadly, most of us live in the ‘before’ side of the photos, which makes their inclusion all the more riveting. Montgomery’s impeccable and exhaustive research is woven so well into his narrative that the book reads more like a novel or travelogue than the important work it is.  In fact, Montgomery synthesizes others’ works so well that his book may become a primary source in future.  Very few authors - especially non-academics - can claim this mantle.  (Happy City is closer to Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene than it is to anything by Malcolm Gladwell, despite the latter’s populist appeal).   In his concluding chapters, Montgomery tries to answer the question of what holds us back from happier cities.  Our frustration with long commutes is reframed to have us pondering why we want larger (suburban) homes, why there is no employment in our neighborhoods, why transit works in some areas and not others, and for whom cities are designed.   Zoning, Montgomery says “organizes the system of a city, and thus the lives led in it ....  It is not market-based, nor is it democratic.”  Anti-planning groups such as the Tea Party in the US are acknowledged as “quite natural in a nation that holds its sense of liberty close, but they are not based on a clear view of reality.  For one thing, they ignore the fact that their tax dollars are already being used to massively subsidize the sprawl model.”  With respect to bike lanes, which also are often sub-optimally designed, Montgomery singles out cycle enthusiasts who push for their needs at the expense of other cyclists.  And finally, outside interests such as the auto industry (the history of the introduction of jay-walking laws is thought provoking) and even international aid agencies (Penalosa thankfully nixed a proposal by car-exporting Japan to build elevated freeways in Bogota) are discussed. Happy City is thought provoking and a call to thoughtful action.  It should be read by citizens who want to be informed about the forces that shape their daily lives and routines, and by those who want to make a difference in their neighbourhoods. Hopefully this includes you.
Date published: 2013-12-10

Editorial Reviews

Finalist for the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction"Such an instructive book." —Toronto Star "Montgomery is a talented raconteur. . . . In Happy City, the prose swings when he’s plunging us into the moment." —National Post "Montgomery should be praised for both the breadth of his research as well the virtues of most everything he argues." —The Globe and Mail "A copy of Charles Montgomery’s Happy City sits on newly elected Toronto mayor John Tory's desk. Here’s hoping he and every major reads it. The book is a builder’s guide to a modern and livable urban environment. . . . [containing] Malcolm Gladwell-worthy data mining." —John Moore of Moore in the Mornings (via National Post)“Lively and accessible. . . . In Montgomery’s hands, urban design proves not only exciting, but integral to our future.” ―Publishers Weekly“Happy City is not only readable but stimulating. It raises issues most of us have avoided for too long. Do we live in neighbourhoods that make us happy? That is not a silly question. Montgomery encourages us to ask it without embarrassment, and to think intelligently about the answer.” —The New York Times“A brilliant, entertaining and vital book. Montgomery deftly leads us from our misplaced focus on money, cars and stuff to consider what makes us truly happy. Then everything changes - the way we live, work and play in humanity's major habitat, the city.”—David Suzuki“The place we live is key to our happiness. Charles Montgomery helps us understand why and provides a guidebook for living a happier, more fulfilling and meaningful life.” —Richard Florida, University of Toronto and NYU professor and author of The Rise of the Creative Class.“A wonderful book . . . very thought provoking and inspiring.” —Metro Morning