In our search for happiness, we'd do well to look to Plato for answers to what makes a city great. He said a “city is what it is because our citizens are what they are.”
Dr. Aisha Bin Bishr, Director General of Smart Dubai Office, Dubai, UAE, says that central to any consideration of a city and the well-being of people in that city is an understanding of the fact that by 2050, 75% of the world’s population is predicted to be living in those cities.
Happy Cities in a Smart World, a rumination, and examination on happiness activities and interventions that are applicable across wider city contexts and cultures, takes on the problem of understanding fundamental and common characteristics of city life.
We live in an increasingly technological world. As a result, we need to know how technology can help deliver satisfying activities and interventions in an efficient manner - or in ways not possible without such technologies.
To do that, we need to consider how housing, income, jobs, community, education, environment, civic engagement, health, life satisfaction, safety, and work-life balance will impact the whole.
A recent EU report lays out ways we might rank cities according to their level of ‘smart’ activities, and this study from the Global Happiness Council examines various ways of categorizing the activities.
In a nutshell, the study settled on some dimensions from the economy to the people to governance activities to mobility to the environment and living.
While some cities have already adopted a “smart city” approach, the dimensions and sub-items are defined and organized into several sections which take on well-known interventions and then move on to newer methods and approaches
The second section of this exhaustive report uses the simple concept of the “feedback loop” to highlight the need to structure approaches with the need to measure outcomes and to then justify those decisions with pertinent data.
A third section focuses on well-known themes in the city and illustrates them with examples. All the sections contain elaborated case studies on ways each city has used to improve quality of life.
Historians have described cities as “the most enduring and successful socio-political unit.” As in Mesopotamia were the first large-scale communities began to develop where people created a system beyond subsistence to produce a surplus and diversify their cultural activities, “a new form of collective community” emerged.
One famous study found that cities are “strengthened immeasurably by increasing the concern for pedestrians, cyclists and city life in general” and that making a city walkable and workable would require that spaces are useful, safe, comfortable and interesting. An added benefit is that where walking is encouraged, so comes an increased likelihood of social interactions.
So where does technology fit into the matrix of “a happy city”?
Dr. Bin Bishr says technology should be subservient to the ultimate goal of serving the people and adds that “the essential building blocks for building healthier, happier cities have not changed.” She says a focus on novel technology “must not obscure the crucial importance of essential principles such as mixed land-use planning, coordination of land-use and transportation investments, and the emphasis on active travel and walkable neighborhoods.”
She adds that the “folly of building-centric urban renewal reminds us that cities aren’t structures; cities are people.”
It's the activities of people - rather than the actions of the custodians – which provides a city or a place its authenticity with all its natural imperfections and patina.