Selected quotes from each chapter in Charles Montgomery’s new book – Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design.  happy-city

Today: ‘Who is the city for?’

Urban spaces and systems do not merely reflect altruistic attempts to solve the complex problem of people living close together …  They are shaped by struggles between competing groups of people.

Who should share in the public wealth of the city?

“One of the requirements for happiness is equality …  Maybe not equality of income, but equality of quality of life and, more than that, an environment where people don’t feel inferior, where people don’t feel excluded” – Enrique Penalosa.

… having less is okay, but having less than everyone else feels awful.  We can’t help but judge our position relative to every one else. … Some economists argue that status gaps are so harmful that we should treat them like pollution and use the tax system to close them.

… new plans that threaten the urban design status quo face deep and emotional opposition.  … Resistance to urban renovations is driven partly by deeply held beliefs about the relationship between urban form and culture, and what it means to be free in cities.  … Some of this backlash stems from stakeholders’ fear of losing the right to live and move as they have become accustomed.

These inequities need to be confronted: in part for the sake of the poor, who have every bit as much right to the public benefits of the city as the wealthy; in part for the soul of the city  … and in part for the purely pragmatic reasons – in a fairer city, life can be better for everyone.

But we face a couple of daunting challenges …  The happy redesigns I’ve been talking about – from bike lanes, traffic calming, good transit, and pop-up plazas to bylaws that ensure vibrant commercial streets – appear first in favoured districts because their residents have the time, money, and political influence to make them happen.  The other is that … such livability measures actually drive up land values.

We can make cities that are more generous and less cruel.  We can make cities that help us all get stronger, more resilient, more connected, more active, and more free.  We just have to decide who our cities are for.  And we have to believe that they can change.


  1. One of the findings of the Vancouver Foundation’s recent and deep study of social connectedness in Vancouver Metro is that people who live in town houses tend to know their neighbours more than in other forms of residential development. If such connectedness is one of the goals of a happier city, it follows that cities should pursue various typical as well as innovative forms of such housing typologies. They work for first- time buyers, downsizers and families with children as well, offering protected yard space, usually in the rear or a courtyard rather than in the rather wasteful and underused front yard. Front porches are good, though.

    I’m not sure if the future chapters of this book will get to desirable forms of housing, but let’s not forget this universally appealing building type as the complex story of city-building unfolds.

    As Roger Kemble might say, don’t forget the party wall!

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