Title: Happy City: Transforming Our Lives through Urban Design
Author: Charles Montgomery
Release Date: November 12, 2013
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
While previous generations valued the car-centered life, moving further into the suburbs to achieve the “American Dream,” young people today have increasingly begun to revitalize urban centers, preferring shorter commutes and a walking/bicycling lifestyle. In Happy City: Transforming Our Loves through Urban Design, Charles Montgomery examines this trend, focusing on how urban design can actually make us happier people.
Though the concept of urban design may seem dull, Charles Montgomery makes it fascinating in Happy City. It’s an examination of how we live affects us, and what we can do to make ourselves happier.
As a person who has fully embraced the urban lifestyle, I was fascinated by Happy City: Transforming Lives through Urban Design. When contemplating buying a home last year, we made the choice to purchase a house in an urban neighborhood, where we would get less space for our money. The tradeoff? We use our car maybe once or twice a month. We walk and bike to shops, restaurants, and bars. We live an essentially car-free life, and though there are some sacrifices we made to do so, we love the way we live. I was curious to see, therefore, what Charles Montgomery had to say on the subject.
Happy City is a book that anyone interested in urban issues and lifestyles will enjoy. What I appreciated is that Montgomery is not against cars; he recognizes that they have their value. It’s not a diatribe, by any means. Instead, it’s about awareness—rather than encouraging suburban sprawl and building more and more space for weary commuters in their cars, urban designers should focus on making neighborhoods more walkable, with community oriented spaces. Even if you live in the suburbs, wouldn’t you like to be able to walk to the grocery store, the park, and to your neighborhood restaurants? It’s all about making the places we live more accessible.
This has a tangible benefit: people are, quite simply, happier when they don’t have to get in a car to get everywhere. Having access to a more walkable lifestyle not only is healthier and more efficient, but it creates a sense of community. It’s fascinating to read this book—case studies combined with ideas—and understand what a difference something as seemingly boring as urban design can make in people’s lives.
No matter how good the ideas in Happy City are, though, it has to be written well. A subject like this could easily devolve into the dry and dreary. That’s why I was so impressed with Montgomery’s writing; though he’s throwing facts at you right and left, this book is never boring. Its conversational tone makes it easy to read and it’s very accessible. Even if you’ve never read a book on this subject before, you’ll absolutely understand and connect with this book. If you’re a fan of nonfiction generally, this is a book on an unconventional topic that you should absolutely check out.