Urbanist Charles Montgomery recently spoke to a crowd of 300 at UBC about better connecting people to the public spaces they live in.
Montgomery was invited to review the plans for the expansion of residency on UBC campus around Thunderbird Stadium.
Throughout his career, Montgomery has stressed that urban spaces have to develop spaces that encourage social action and creativity to successfully bridge communities. He details this research in his 2013 book, Happy City, where he mixed findings from neuroscience, psychology, public health, urban planning and other fields to argue that a happy city is a green and interactive one.
The theme of a “happy city” seems especially pertinent at UBC, as roughly a dozen audience members asked Montgomery about how to make a city setting happier.
Montgomery was raised on the East Side of Vancouver, and during research for Happy City he found that Vancouver trails behind the rest of Canada when it comes to happiness.
He noted that supply is not enough to deal with the housing crisis and the isolation felt by many Vancouverites.
Instead, he advocated strongly for the development of affordable housing and public spaces that are creative and rooted in local business, creating spaces that everyone can inhabit. He denounced “hipster” urban planning that doesn’t facilitate social interaction so much as it makes a neighbourhood look nice.
According to him, the happiest city in Canada by most metrics is St. John’s in Newfoundland.
For Montgomery, making a city happy ultimately means helping their citizens to become active and creative within the spaces they live in and to interact and trust others — something perhaps easier said than done.