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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 improveme 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. 


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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 improveme 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. 

30 review for Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jud Barry

    When I carry a book's ideas around in my head and, day after day, look at my surroundings through the eyes of those ideas, that's when I have to think that a book has had an impact on me. Such is the case with this book. I didn't zip through it, enthralled, but I engaged it every day--mostly in nibbles during my lunch hour--and it would form the touchstone of my thoughts on my commuting drive home. Ah, the commuting drive. Ah, the home: the suburban home, the man's-home-is-his-castle cul de sac h When I carry a book's ideas around in my head and, day after day, look at my surroundings through the eyes of those ideas, that's when I have to think that a book has had an impact on me. Such is the case with this book. I didn't zip through it, enthralled, but I engaged it every day--mostly in nibbles during my lunch hour--and it would form the touchstone of my thoughts on my commuting drive home. Ah, the commuting drive. Ah, the home: the suburban home, the man's-home-is-his-castle cul de sac home that America--and much of the developed world--has designed itself into in the name of freedom and happiness. But what if it's not working? What if the logical conclusion of all this designed so-called happiness is Atlanta? I've lived there, and I have family living there. To me it's the place where automotive suburban isolation has attained the scale and perfection of a nightmare. In Charles Montgomery's telling, it's clear how we got here: the crowning of the automobile as the ideal application of individualism to transportation (at the expense of collective modes of getting around and of slower ones, too, requiring physical effort), and, following this, the large-scale transformations (think interstates and residential zoning laws) that proceeded apace. But to describe the book in this way does it a great discredit, because it is much more than a critique of automotive/suburban faux-libertarianism. It articulates a positive doctrine of the city as a "happiness project" that began back when the Athenians went about figuring how to design democracy. At the book's core is a comprehensive, well-rounded understanding of happiness as a psychological, social, and philosophical phenomenon that is much more nuanced than the worn-out artificiality of "homo oeconomicus" and his so-called rational decisions. The book is rich with successful examples of "happy" reforms in cities all over the world: Bogota, Vancouver, Copenhagen. Public bike rental and Seine-front public beaches in Paris are transforming the City of Light. A Portland neighborhood brought "neighbor" back into the 'hood by painting a mural in an intersection and calling it "Share-It Square;" it was illegal, of course--it violated codes--but the neighborhood was able to fight City Hall and win. As for me, I'm now imagining a network of walking paths to connect my sidewalk-less suburb to its commercial district. Why not be able to walk to the store, or to a restaurant, on a pretty day? It would only require a few sidewalks and marked crossings to connect lesser-used streets that could safely be used for pedestrian traffic. People could get exercise and see their neighbors while also doing something functional. What if that has as much--or more--to do with happiness as carbon-spewing, autonomous motoring?

  2. 4 out of 5

    Book Riot Community

    Have you seen the terrific scathing TED talk of professional urban design gadfly James Howard Kunstler “The Ghastly Tragedy of The Suburbs,” in which he outlines all that is wrong with malls, suburban housing developments, and modern life, generally? I loved it because I frequently weep in the aisle of my minimall’s big box store buying back-to-school supplies and wonder why can’t we all live in the so-called “blue zones” (the places in the world where people live longest and are the happiest) w Have you seen the terrific scathing TED talk of professional urban design gadfly James Howard Kunstler “The Ghastly Tragedy of The Suburbs,” in which he outlines all that is wrong with malls, suburban housing developments, and modern life, generally? I loved it because I frequently weep in the aisle of my minimall’s big box store buying back-to-school supplies and wonder why can’t we all live in the so-called “blue zones” (the places in the world where people live longest and are the happiest) with strong communities and great architecture and gelato. Happy City — happily, optimistically — outlines how the design of our shared urban spaces can be humanized and changed for the better. We have evolved to enjoy looking at softly branching and overlapping trees, views, and “bodies of clear, still water,” not asphalt and the sharp edges of empty atriums in dead mall. — Elizabeth Bastos from The Best Books We Read In August: http://bookriot.com/2015/08/31/riot-r...

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mireille Duval

    This book delighted me and made me angry at the same time. Delighted at every happy city described - particularly Copenhagen, now I just must visit Denmark and stare at all the Bjarke Ingels buildings forever (or I could just go to New York, I guess, but I did that already!). And of course, angry at the freaking cars that our countries seem to be built around. You guys, I just hate cars so much. I hate driving them, I hate paying for them through my taxes, I hate having to be wary when I cross t This book delighted me and made me angry at the same time. Delighted at every happy city described - particularly Copenhagen, now I just must visit Denmark and stare at all the Bjarke Ingels buildings forever (or I could just go to New York, I guess, but I did that already!). And of course, angry at the freaking cars that our countries seem to be built around. You guys, I just hate cars so much. I hate driving them, I hate paying for them through my taxes, I hate having to be wary when I cross the street even when I have priority, I hate that I can't bike to work because of them. I JUST REALLY HATE CARS GUYS, and this book convinced me even further. It was a really detailed view of the subject. I liked how there were no obvious easy solutions, how Montgomery presented downsides to the improvements (like that a lot of them would be illegal because of zoning, or that some experiments didn't work out). Most of all I liked the tales of people coming together to turn things around, of cities reclaiming their spaces for the people and not the machines, of mixed-use buildings, of sexy public transportation. (And I read 95% of the book on public transportation, so I already find it pretty sexy.) Our current mayor is very pro-cars, and they're widening freeways and refusing to implant bus service through the current hideous sprawl. It's like we're still stuck in the 1960s described in the book. On the plus side, reading this has made me want to get involved, so, I just might. (How about forbidding cars on just one of the main parallel arteries to downtown? Can you imagine riding your bike all the way from the Université Laval to the Carré d'Youville, not a car(e) in the world down on the boulevard Laurier? Something to dream about for sure...)

  4. 4 out of 5

    Kamila Kunda

    Living in Amsterdam, the city being very against car monoculture, I was reading Charles Montgomery’s “Happy City. Transforming Our Lives through Urban Design” with relief - relief that I do not live in any of the American cities described in the book. Amsterdam is one of the happiest and most liveable cities in the world. The majority of people cycle to school or work, streets are safe for children, adults and the elderly as well as for people with disabilities. The city is one of greenest in Eu Living in Amsterdam, the city being very against car monoculture, I was reading Charles Montgomery’s “Happy City. Transforming Our Lives through Urban Design” with relief - relief that I do not live in any of the American cities described in the book. Amsterdam is one of the happiest and most liveable cities in the world. The majority of people cycle to school or work, streets are safe for children, adults and the elderly as well as for people with disabilities. The city is one of greenest in Europe and everyone lives within a walking distance to a park and a playground, where children can safely play without parental supervision at any time of the day. The living standard of an average citizen is much higher than of an average American. Despite the increase of obesity rates all over the world, the Netherlands is one of OECD countries with the lowest rate and the only EU country where it is gradually decreasing - especially among the lowest income residents. Moreover, the city’s government has plans to slash thousands of car parking spaces in the next few years in favour of more bicycle parking spots and it aims to widen and increase the number of bicycle lanes (which are already excellent). Rents are controlled to a certain extent so that there is no ghettoisation, so ubiquitous in the United States, and people of various financial status, education level, age and ethnicity live peacefully next to each other. Urban sprawl is unheard of. Most of all, people have a choice of leading a lifestyle they want and the majority feel they have a great control over their lives. What Charles Montgomery describes in his book is mainly American dire reality of lack of choice and lack of freedom. He analyses how urban landscape makes Americans “sicker, fatter, more frustrated, socially isolated and broke”. He travels widely to research case studies, mainly from the United States. From California to Georgia, he finds dystopian landscapes and dystopian societies, with lack of prospects, malfunctioning legislation regarding urban planning and little hope for the better. However, he finds positive examples of changes as well - neighbourhoods which strengthened their social fabric, individuals who thanks to small choices improved their well-being. Montgomery refers to fantastic solutions from his foreign travels as well: from the Netherlands, Canada, Denmark, Columbia. He encourages Americans - the book is very clearly written for Americans - to start with small steps and to question the current state of affairs. He points out that what seems completely natural and even good for Americans would be unthinkable in many countries all over the world. Many times I opened my eyes wide with disbelief reading about short-sightedness and narrow-mindedness of Americans described in the book, who think their lifestyle is the best, the one everyone aspires to, whereas in reality it is often a nightmare a lot of countries want - and manage - to avoid. If I can express one dissatisfaction with the book it would be my wish for the author to travel more widely and conduct more research outside of the USA. I wish he presented more solutions from successful countries and communities. What I found most interesting is the author’s constant reminder of the very well argued truth, well-known outside of the US and yet very unpopular in the coutry: “A nation that celebrates freedom and weaves liberty into its national myth rarely gives regular people the chance to shape their own communities”. Being one of the biggest global economies does not tally with offering citizens the freedom to choose a lifestyle they want to lead. It means rather imposing a lifestyle and a monoculture that is several decades behind other industrialised countries, countries more developed and more democratic than the Unites States, whose societies are happier, culturally and spiritually richer, healthier, safer, better educated, more engaged and whose citizens are more equal and closer to one another. But despite this pessimistic view of his own country Montgomery explains ways how anyone can contribute to the decrease of the social and equality gap and work towards the common good. The strength of the book lies, in my opinion, in giving its readers hope that their voice matters and that they can indeed improve their lot.

  5. 5 out of 5

    TS Chan

    As much as I enjoy my non-fiction reads, this was not a topic that I ever thought I'll find myself reading. I was browsing the wonderful bookshops in London, specifically Foyles at Charing Cross when the book's cover design and title caught my attention on one of the themed-display tables. After reading the back-cover blurb, the concept of the urban design being a happiness project (an oversimplification but you get the idea) intrigued me and I decided to look for this title at the local library As much as I enjoy my non-fiction reads, this was not a topic that I ever thought I'll find myself reading. I was browsing the wonderful bookshops in London, specifically Foyles at Charing Cross when the book's cover design and title caught my attention on one of the themed-display tables. After reading the back-cover blurb, the concept of the urban design being a happiness project (an oversimplification but you get the idea) intrigued me and I decided to look for this title at the local library. I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed reading this. Happy City was simply engaging, fascinating and enlightening. The stories of real people captured in the narrative made it more compelling. The only shortcoming of the book from my point of view is that it was Americas and Europe-centric and lacked Asian perspective. However, the principles and ideals are still highly relevant because I can see its application in the city I am living in, i.e. Singapore which I believe got it as close to perfect as it possibly can. There are other factors in play in this city that may not make its residents the happiest. But, as far as urban design is concerned, I believe the government has gotten a lot of it right considering the constraints that they had to work with, predominantly the limited space on this small island. Meanwhile, the rest of the major, and physically larger, cities in the ASEAN region are suffering from soul-draining traffic congestion, personal safety issues and even the paradox of communal detachment in densely populated areas. Frankly this book can readily instigate a lengthy personal blog entry from me but I will refrain from turning this short review into one. Safe to say that I am seeing cities in a different light now and I hope that this knowledge will stay with me as I travel to other parts of the world and appreciate how the city impacts its denizens.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sanaa

    [4.5 Stars] Another urban design reading staple, and in my opinion a staple for anyone wanting to be a leader in their community.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design. Title says it all, really. Montgomery's arguments felt counterintuitive to me, but maybe that's revealing. It's easy, for example, to sit in a commute thinking "this is just the way it is and how it must be." Actually, the cities we live in were designed for cars and then cars filled the space. If we make space for more cars, then more cars will line up in commutes. But if we make space for bicycles or mass transit, people will use the spa Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design. Title says it all, really. Montgomery's arguments felt counterintuitive to me, but maybe that's revealing. It's easy, for example, to sit in a commute thinking "this is just the way it is and how it must be." Actually, the cities we live in were designed for cars and then cars filled the space. If we make space for more cars, then more cars will line up in commutes. But if we make space for bicycles or mass transit, people will use the space for those things, too, especially if the city continues to invest in them (as opposed to taking inner taxes to fuel more sprawl). If there is one aspect of the book that is not counterintuitive, it's Montgomery's overview of cars and suburbs. Suburbs seem lame and sort of hostile in a passive-aggressive way--and they are. They are isolating and they create long commutes that ruin people's lives. Regardless, I learned a lot about urban design and I'm eager to read more books on this subject. Some further notes. -Bicyclists who really battle for space on the street. Good on them. But Montgomery suggests that their determination helped to create the idea that we shouldn't make riding bicycles as easy as possible. -Cities use more energy than the country, because way more people live in cities rather than because individuals in cities individually use more energy. -The happiest commuters seem to be cyclists. They have more human connection and exercise is really good for you. Public transit users are really miserable, though that may be a product of how badly public transit is designed in most of North America--a sort of handout to the poor rather than a service "regular" people are expected to use. -People who design buses will use the most boring designs, even when nicer designs cost the same, in order not to give the impression that money was spent on buses. -Building codes and zoning are a real fulcrum for change on this issue.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ian Robertson

    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. 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 neighborhoods. Hopefully this includes you.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kayla

    Really disappointed by this book. It's just the standard urbanist gospel that we've all likely read before--nothing new here. The author thinks city life will solve all our problems with unhappiness, loneliness, obesity, or lack of spiritual fulfillment. He gives very short shrift to all the legitimate reasons people might choose "sprawl" over cities (remember, 8/10 Americans still prefer single-family homes). Fear of crime and desire for privacy and space get passing mentions, but the author see Really disappointed by this book. It's just the standard urbanist gospel that we've all likely read before--nothing new here. The author thinks city life will solve all our problems with unhappiness, loneliness, obesity, or lack of spiritual fulfillment. He gives very short shrift to all the legitimate reasons people might choose "sprawl" over cities (remember, 8/10 Americans still prefer single-family homes). Fear of crime and desire for privacy and space get passing mentions, but the author seems to think these feelings are silly prejudices. Everyone really wants to live in a dense, walkable urban village where everyone knows your name--and if you think you don't want that, you probably just need to be reeducated. Surely I'm not the only one who recoils at the story of the man pressured into babysitting because "in the village, no one is anonymous--and village life comes with obligations." (paraphrased) Yes, that's exactly why most of us left the village. The book gets pretty repetitive; it's 300 pages but really doesn't have that much to say. I got tired of reading the same list of abstract praise for the city over and over. And hiding citations in the back of the book seems to encourage the author to make unsupported claims. For instance, no one really knows what causes the increased obesity rate; it's irresponsible to suggest that we know sprawl is doing it.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Sue Bridehead (A Pseudonym)

    Over the two-week period during which I read this book, I drove my partner crazy talking about it. It's on a subject with which I'm already obsessed: urban sprawl and urban design. I grew up in a New England village (founded in the 1630s) embedded in a larger suburb. Ergo most of my life from birth to age 18 was entirely walkable or bike-able. I did not realize how spoiled I was to walk to all my schools (K-12), to my choice of two ice cream parlors, to a bank, a library, a post office, many dif Over the two-week period during which I read this book, I drove my partner crazy talking about it. It's on a subject with which I'm already obsessed: urban sprawl and urban design. I grew up in a New England village (founded in the 1630s) embedded in a larger suburb. Ergo most of my life from birth to age 18 was entirely walkable or bike-able. I did not realize how spoiled I was to walk to all my schools (K-12), to my choice of two ice cream parlors, to a bank, a library, a post office, many different pizzerias, one natural body of water (toxic, but still beautiful), and a handful of lovely, green parks with tennis courts. I worked on a farm for two years that was 1/4 mile walk from my house. Even my frickin' volunteer work was within walking distance of my home. Even my after-school CCD (catechism). Dang, I was healthy back then. Why? Because home felt and behaved like the community-minded rural village it was designed to be. It was convenient. It clicked. Then I went to a college in a perfect, walkable college town. Then I lived for a summer in Durham, NC--less walkable, but I was still able to hoof it or take a short bus ride from my apartment to a mall, to my job, to a funky grocery, to a green open space with a dirt running track around it, and to a cool, hip street with cafes and used book stores and record stores. Then I moved to Los Angeles. (Insert "wah wah" deflation sound.) And I've been complaining ever since. Seventeen years of complaining! No sidewalks (or crumbling ones leading to twisted ankles), no central gathering places, no reliable public transportation, tricky parking, and epic traffic that eats your soul. Friends in neighborhoods 6 miles away become acquaintances you see 2-3 times a year. L.A. is a massive sprawl of neighborhoods, some of which have identities and some of which are pass-through places alongside major surface streets, the ground-level equivalent of flyover states. (I live in one of those places now.) There's nothing easy linking these various neighborhoods together. If you live in the Valley, you have to drive to Silver Lake to go boutique shopping or to try that cool new restaurant. It hardly seems worth it, sitting in the car and polluting the planet just to buy some cool new shirt and artisan-crafted blank book to put your poetry in. (Angelenos: L.A.'s adding improvements and I am really excited for its future, but it still has a long way to go. To give more options, we need so many more sidewalks, trolleys/light rail/subway lines, dedicated bike lanes or bike highways away from cars. . . and so many fewer cars on the roadways.) Natives may be used to this lifestyle, but those of us who grew up around places planned before cars can't stand the fact that cars are our only option. We don't hate cars--we just want other choices that work (or we want cool things to go to locally). It's depressing and it makes a person feel trapped. This book addresses every negative transportation and zoning factor I've noted on my own over the last 17 years of living in L.A. It's given each of these issues a context, so now I understand how and why these issues came to be. (Basically, blame the auto industry and our lazy local governments, which depend on old zoning codes--essentially copied and pasted as if every community is exactly like every other.) Reading this book elevated my understanding of suburban sprawl, a.k.a. the "dispersed city," but more importantly it made feel I can do something about it--both by adjusting my behaviors and attitudes (something I work at daily; it helps) and by getting involved in making my neighborhood smaller and more functional. P.S. So many good facts in this book! Too many to hunt down and type here. The cost of owning a car, both to your wallet and the planet, is appalling, seriously.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Josh

    Happy City has the potential to be one of the most transformative books you can read regarding improving your health, happiness and connection to your community. Charles Montgomery makes a strong case that in our quest to have the big house, white-picket fence, two-car garage and 2.5 kids, many people have exchanged square footage for a long commute. This distance separates us from our work, our friends, our neighbors and most importantly our happiness as well as being generally unsustainable fr Happy City has the potential to be one of the most transformative books you can read regarding improving your health, happiness and connection to your community. Charles Montgomery makes a strong case that in our quest to have the big house, white-picket fence, two-car garage and 2.5 kids, many people have exchanged square footage for a long commute. This distance separates us from our work, our friends, our neighbors and most importantly our happiness as well as being generally unsustainable from an environmental perspective. The target of Montgomery's arguments are the innocuous city planners whose zoning laws lead to large suburban lots that serve more as a prison than as a home. All this being said, Happy City is really a three star book. While containing a number of persuasive anecdotes toward the trials and tribulations of suburbia, Happy City is light on meaningful facts, contains few supporting statistics and completely fails to quantify benefits to happiness, well-being and environmental impact. Additionally, the book drags in several places as the later chapters don't advance the author's arguments, introduce new material or provide closure to presented topics. Happy City is a five star message wrapped in a three star book.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Rachel C.

    Good intro to urban design. Basically, Montgomery's thesis is that cars are evil. "Americans were actually spending more hours commuting than they got in vacation time." "[E]xchaning a long commute for a short walk to work has the same effect on happiness as finding a new love." "[P]eople who endure long drives tend to experience higher blood pressure and more headaches than those with shorter commutes. They get frustrated more easily and tend to be grumpier when they get to their destination." "Peop Good intro to urban design. Basically, Montgomery's thesis is that cars are evil. "Americans were actually spending more hours commuting than they got in vacation time." "[E]xchaning a long commute for a short walk to work has the same effect on happiness as finding a new love." "[P]eople who endure long drives tend to experience higher blood pressure and more headaches than those with shorter commutes. They get frustrated more easily and tend to be grumpier when they get to their destination." "People who live in monofunctional, car-dependent neighborhoods outside of urban centers are much less trusting of other people... They are also much less likely to get involved with social groups... They don't answer petitions, don't attend rallies, and don't join political parties or social advocacy groups." It's a pretty powerful idea that living in a denser, more tightly-knit community can save you money (from car payments, gas, insurance), make you healthier, be more environmentally friendly AND make you happier and more socially engaged.

  13. 4 out of 5

    KDV

    I love this book and basically can't shut up about it. I love this book and basically can't shut up about it.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Brahm

    Thought provoking and high impact; lessons learned here will stick with me. There are a lot of books on urban design, this is the first I've read, but I'd absorbed many of the concepts via osmosis as Robyn is super keen on this topic. It was great to dive deeper into the content with concrete examples. Biggest takeaway: Everyone - and I mean EVERYONE - should read a book on urban design before they move, EVERY TIME they move. Whether it's buying your first house, moving out from mom and dad's ho Thought provoking and high impact; lessons learned here will stick with me. There are a lot of books on urban design, this is the first I've read, but I'd absorbed many of the concepts via osmosis as Robyn is super keen on this topic. It was great to dive deeper into the content with concrete examples. Biggest takeaway: Everyone - and I mean EVERYONE - should read a book on urban design before they move, EVERY TIME they move. Whether it's buying your first house, moving out from mom and dad's house, leasing a new apartment, upsizing, downsizing, moving cities, etc. This is my plea to anyone reading this review, because if you haven't read on this topic you are probably underestimating the MAGNITUDE of truth baked into the cliché, "location, location, location". Obviously "read this before you move" was not the book's thesis. The real meat of it is we live in systems that shape our behaviour, everything from how much time we spend commuting (and how we commute), to how many spontaneous interactions we have with friends and family, to how social we are with our neighbours. Urban design (or lack thereof) shapes our behaviour in ways most of us don't predict when we move to a new community (that in itself is a mindset shift I'll take away: we don't move to new homes, we move to new communities). Mixed-use and mixed-zone neighbourhoods make cities more resilient, less fragile, and improve quality of life. Stale, traditional building codes and rigidly inflexible zoning create inaccessible, compartmentalized communities. Super interesting thesis around how the suburbs facilitated a "white exodus" from city centres during the civil rights era, but now property values are rising as whites and people of privilege are buying back city centre properties, ironically pushing poorer and disadvantaged people to suburbs (which are comparatively super expensive for families as far as heating/cooling and commute times, and super expensive for cities to maintain power/water/transit service with their ultra-low population densities). Personal story. Robyn & I bought our current home in 2013. I still have the Google spreadsheet with the column of NEEDS: "big/nice kitchen, 2-3 bedrooms, lots of light, garden-suitable yard, no major renos needed, good yard access". There is NOTHING in needs about community or nearby amenities! The WANTS column had just four criteria: "garage, close to park/greenspace, close to grocery store" and some neighbourhood preferences. We were insanely lucky that as our suburb developed, many amenities we now use daily or weekly showed up within walking distance. We could of easily picked a suburban house near a park super far away from amenities. We would probably not have picked up the habit of walking for most of our groceries, we'd drive more and be generally unhealthier. If & when we move I know our NEEDS and WANTS are going to look very different. NEEDS will include walkable grocery, walkable/bikeable library, greenspace, some friends or family in walkable/bikeable range. WANTS would probably include close access to a higher-frequency transit route, being closer to the river, being closer to downtown, being closer to Broadway. Found the book via the episode of the Tim Ferriss podcast with Mr. Money Mustache. If MMM didn't convince me cars are dumb, this book did.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Tai

    Finally, after a string of blah reads, I score something truly amazing. I have always loved books about sustainable living, minimalism, and this book combines both of my loves. Montgomery tells us that happiness is not an accidental thing - sometimes it can be caused by design. Urban living has torn apart village living, tossing people into isolated McMansions, taking away their freedom of mobility without dependence on fossil fuels and thus causing a ripple effect of unhappiness throughout soci Finally, after a string of blah reads, I score something truly amazing. I have always loved books about sustainable living, minimalism, and this book combines both of my loves. Montgomery tells us that happiness is not an accidental thing - sometimes it can be caused by design. Urban living has torn apart village living, tossing people into isolated McMansions, taking away their freedom of mobility without dependence on fossil fuels and thus causing a ripple effect of unhappiness throughout society. But as inspiring as this book is, it's also frustrating because - there are so many things that the powers that be are doing wrong! If only Montgomery was in charge of urban planning. Ha! But the good thing is the author doesn't leave us stewing in frustration, wishing that we lived in Vancouver or Amsterdam. He acknowledges that a lot of work has to be done before the urban sprawl can be repaired and village life be restored, but there are still ways to bend the city to your needs, or to change your life to get that village life you've always craved. That's why I identify most with Conrad Schmidt, a man Montgomery interviewed, who changed his life bit by bit by instinct. Like him, I felt strangely unhappy in the urban sprawl that was the Adelaide suburb of Colonel Light Gardens. After visiting New York City in the 90s, I've always dreamed of living in the heart of a city; it doesn't matter what city, I just wanted to live where the action was, and where everything is within walking distance. When I returned to Malaysia, by happy chance I got the opportunity to live in the heart of a small satellite city, something I've been dreaming about for a while. My apartment is a few blocks away from malls, a light rail transit station, a park, a great gym, a community book exchange and wonderful cafes. I made friends with the cafe owners, I walked daily to get my groceries and took trains to the city - I only drove my car to work, and even then my work enabled me to escape the insane KL traffic as I worked odd hours, so work is only a quick 15-2ominutes drive away. I've also downsized, got rid of much of my possessions, lived in a much tinier space. All this has a ripple effect in my life. I'm exercising more, spending less, and more content with my neighbourhood. I've never been happier in my life. And now I understood why! Instinctively, like Conrad, I've re-engineered my life to make myself happier. This book also made me realise that maybe Malaysia is heading the right direction - at least in Selangor. The popularity of mixed developments, where residential places are above commercial areas, and light rail transits which snake through these neighborhoods makes me glad. Perhaps one day, one of our cities will be one of the most livable in the world too.

  16. 5 out of 5

    David

    This is by far the best written book I've yet read in the areas of urban planning, psychology, and cities. I was very pleasantly surprised by the scale of this book as well as the consistent level of detail, the quality of arguments, figures, and anecdotes, and the author's writing skill. It's wide ranging, yet extremely well connected, and Montgomery does an excellent job at introducing, explaining, and making arguments in support of all the concepts covered in this voluminous book. I especiall This is by far the best written book I've yet read in the areas of urban planning, psychology, and cities. I was very pleasantly surprised by the scale of this book as well as the consistent level of detail, the quality of arguments, figures, and anecdotes, and the author's writing skill. It's wide ranging, yet extremely well connected, and Montgomery does an excellent job at introducing, explaining, and making arguments in support of all the concepts covered in this voluminous book. I especially appreciated the chapters entitled "Mobilicities" and a late chapter on retro-fitting sprawl to be more dense, desirable, and sustainable. Montgomery also won't be silo'd- he does an excellent job at making clear how the happy city is also the low-carbon city, the connected city, the sustainable city. I strongly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in how our society has become so dispersed, the consequences of such decisions, and potential solutions. Montgomery's writing on the nature of happiness and its fundamental relation to human connectedness and community would be valuable even if one has no interest in urban geography. Thanks for recommending, Mary!

  17. 5 out of 5

    Cwiegard

    Very definitely a thought provoking work of journalism. One might think that the topic of urban design would be utterly dry- but not in Montgomery's treatment. He presents the subject through individual case studies, humanizing and dramatizing a hidden reality that rules our lives. The idealized twentieth century concepts of suburban sprawl and segregated zoning have poisoned American culture to a remarkable degree- and yet much of the information here is virtually unknown to Americans. Bottom l Very definitely a thought provoking work of journalism. One might think that the topic of urban design would be utterly dry- but not in Montgomery's treatment. He presents the subject through individual case studies, humanizing and dramatizing a hidden reality that rules our lives. The idealized twentieth century concepts of suburban sprawl and segregated zoning have poisoned American culture to a remarkable degree- and yet much of the information here is virtually unknown to Americans. Bottom line, we all want to live in real communities. We think we want a supersized mansion on five acres far away from anyone else. But that which we think we want is not the thing that would actually make us happy- as many of us have learned too late. The 20th century suburban model only leaves us unhealthy and lonely with a sky full of carbon and a vague feeling that something is missing. It is time for something better, and Montgomery closes with a few shreds of hope that some of us may be starting to reach out for that better way to live.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Shari Henry

    If you care about your city and your lifestyle, read this book. Montgomery plays part psychologist, part sociologist, and part architect as he walks the reader through the philosophy, history, and planning behind building great and not-so-great cities. He offers real solutions, my favorite when discussing civic engagement: "We asked everyone in the neighborhood to come to our planning meetings, but we realized that the alcoholics, the guys who just sit around all day and drink in the park, never If you care about your city and your lifestyle, read this book. Montgomery plays part psychologist, part sociologist, and part architect as he walks the reader through the philosophy, history, and planning behind building great and not-so-great cities. He offers real solutions, my favorite when discussing civic engagement: "We asked everyone in the neighborhood to come to our planning meetings, but we realized that the alcoholics, the guys who just sit around all day and drink in the park, never showed up," planner Henrik Lyng told me as we wandered through the park. "So we just bought a case of beer, came down here, and found them." Boom. That's how it's done, people. Montgomery also talks about green space, non-fake looking buildings, cycling cities, and lots more. I can't wait to share this title with my city planner friends, but it's readable enough for everyone, and important enough too.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Hafidha

    Remarkably well written and logically organized, Happy City proposes urban planning that is flexible, and able to respond to climate change, population growth, migration, economic downturns and social & cultural shifts. Also, big points from me for not ignoring the roles that classism and racism have played and continue to play in how cities and towns are developed, and for balancing vision with approaches for dealing with the realities of regulations and big capitalism.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Witek

    A must-read for anyone interested in modern urban problems, especially sprawl and exurbanisation. An awesome, simple book that relates to transport, human psychology and architecture in order to try to convince the reader, that the deep-rooted malaise of our cities can and must be cured. If only it were written a bit better, it would surely get 5 stars from me!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Veronica

    I cannot stop talking and thinking about this book!!!! Everyone should read this book read it for yourself and you will KNOW. Like Nils, I wish Montgomery had written more about gentrification, and I think he left out more details than he should have about segregationist and discriminatory housing policies in the US. However, his remedies for these injustices are inspiring and attainable. This book reads like a book of short-stories, makes you want to visit all these new places, and got me thinki I cannot stop talking and thinking about this book!!!! Everyone should read this book read it for yourself and you will KNOW. Like Nils, I wish Montgomery had written more about gentrification, and I think he left out more details than he should have about segregationist and discriminatory housing policies in the US. However, his remedies for these injustices are inspiring and attainable. This book reads like a book of short-stories, makes you want to visit all these new places, and got me thinking about everywhere I've lived, worked, and played. I thought about my parents' commutes to work, and my relationship with a city known for sprawl, and our varying psychologies. When have I been happiest? Where have I felt the most at home? The best part is that these are all REAL things, not just utopian fictional ideas. And when you read it there's so many "aha!" moments that you realize that what he's saying makes SENSE, and you get excited and giddy reading about it.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Aaron Bergunder

    I think it's become annoying how much I talk about this book. Please read it. I think it's become annoying how much I talk about this book. Please read it.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jake Goretzki

    Surprisingly, I found this all rather inspiring and constructive. It makes a strong, well supported and well case-studied case for addressing, well, things that most of us will feel are obvious about what's wrong with (many) cities and the kind of human scale 'software' and 'hardware' measures that can make life, frankly, happier. To its credit, it wears its green politics lightly enough to not feel like a sermon (I live a greener life than most of my peers - I don't drive; I live in a tiny home Surprisingly, I found this all rather inspiring and constructive. It makes a strong, well supported and well case-studied case for addressing, well, things that most of us will feel are obvious about what's wrong with (many) cities and the kind of human scale 'software' and 'hardware' measures that can make life, frankly, happier. To its credit, it wears its green politics lightly enough to not feel like a sermon (I live a greener life than most of my peers - I don't drive; I live in a tiny home; I am a vegetarian; I don't have children; I recycle everything - and I studiously avoid too much contact with repurposed versions of your Christian Doctrine of Original Sin and 'your children's children's children'; I don't have any children - you do). Much of this is, of course, intuitive: we hate commuting. We feel better for talking to neighbours. We enjoy serendipity. Jane Jacobs is God. We like being 'close to nature'. 'We' think we want big houses but we don't think about the commute and the isolation when we get them. We hate ugly, anonymous street scenery. We don't want to linger in inhospitable wind tunnels. Planning laws and sprawl are corrosive. What's more, the very ownership of urban space is offensive (every day I rage among clusters of 50 pedestrians who are given 15 seconds to cross a road so that a fifth of that number of fucks in cars can proceed otherwise uninterrupted). I'd go further: the deference the pedestrian is required to show the driver could be compared to the serf's deference to the seigneur. Montgomery presents an array of cheering examples of how this can be reversed and the benefits it brings. Yes, we're mostly talking Denmark, Holland, Portland and (briefly) Bogota. London (amazingly) gets a mention for the bike hire and the congestion charge. Don't wait up for much happening there of this kind otherwise. In all, a very decent refresher on what's wrong and how it could be better. It's most urgently focussed on the car-bound US, but so many of the arguments are equally pertinent in Europe. Oh, by the way: Jane Jacobs is God.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Peter Foley

    The Happy City is a breezy run through of urban ideas that challenge the dispersed city and promotes urban design to enable community, relationships and well, happiness. If you are familiar with the ideas of Jane Jacobs, Jan Gehl, William H. Whyte, the New Urbanists, and the work of the Penalosa’s in Columbia, there is little new here with possibly the exception of a more defined trajectory leading to improved ‘happiness’. For a book that could be viewed more about urban form and culture, I was i The Happy City is a breezy run through of urban ideas that challenge the dispersed city and promotes urban design to enable community, relationships and well, happiness. If you are familiar with the ideas of Jane Jacobs, Jan Gehl, William H. Whyte, the New Urbanists, and the work of the Penalosa’s in Columbia, there is little new here with possibly the exception of a more defined trajectory leading to improved ‘happiness’. For a book that could be viewed more about urban form and culture, I was interested in a few of the discussions concerning economics. Montgomery' explanation of the economics of the Streetcar suburb where the metrics of lot size, distance to walk to stores, and distance to the streetcars could be easily calculated to establish the economic basis for this type of urban development. These type of economic view appears to be an integral part of land use, and further examination of this impact could have been more useful. At the start of the book, Montgomery presents Enrique Penalosa’s urban strategy as focussed on happiness, and the pursuit of simple economic growth, would as noted would not reach the level of the US or more developed economies. And, that there were other means to achieve happiness or the ‘good life’ for residents of Bogota. The idea that freedom and how it has played into urban form is important. That automobile’s were promoted as a technology that created a new type of personal freedom (mobility), is nicely positioned, or contrasted with the idea the new freedoms can be achieved with choice in types of mobility. Interesting, not sure if it completely addresses the auto conundrum, it is I think an important element to supporting the science of happiness in approach new forms of urban design. It is hard to argue that conviviality, community and relationships are not importantly related to personal happiness. It is though questionable whether the forms of community and urban relationships that are presented are more aspirational than based in urban design.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Patricia

    I wouldn't have guessed that urban planning would prove such a fascinating topic to me, but last year I gave high marks to Jeff Speck's Walkable City and I am now doing the same for Charles Montgomery's Happy City. The author addresses the environmental and fiscal reasons for making biking and walking safer, mass transit available and convenient,having more green spaces and mixed use developments, and how improving those areas even makes it better for those who still choose (or need)to drive. He I wouldn't have guessed that urban planning would prove such a fascinating topic to me, but last year I gave high marks to Jeff Speck's Walkable City and I am now doing the same for Charles Montgomery's Happy City. The author addresses the environmental and fiscal reasons for making biking and walking safer, mass transit available and convenient,having more green spaces and mixed use developments, and how improving those areas even makes it better for those who still choose (or need)to drive. He also makes a very convincing case for the fact that the collective happiness of society will rise if we have more ways to interact with each other in our daily lives - a product of the aforementioned improvements. Like Speck, he cites all kind of studies and reports - these are not just hopeful speculations. I liked his closing paragraph: "This is the truth that shines over the journey toward the happy city. We do not need to wait for someone else to make it. We build it when we choose how and where to live. We build it when we move a little bit closer. We build it when we choose to move a little slower. We build it by choosing to put aside our fear of the city and other people. We build the happy city by pursuing it in our own lives and, in so doing, pushing the city to change with us. We build it by living it."

  26. 4 out of 5

    Ray

    I found this book through Mr. Money Mustache and agree that they are a good match. From deep-thoughts on what makes people truly happy and how to build them into your life, the author shares an appreciation for walk-able cities, bicycling infrastructure, and a general disdain for consumerist/commuter-hell that many modern cities and 'burbs have become. Incidentally, this is also the third book that I've read in the past year that mentioned Seaside, the idyllic little town in Florida's panhandle I found this book through Mr. Money Mustache and agree that they are a good match. From deep-thoughts on what makes people truly happy and how to build them into your life, the author shares an appreciation for walk-able cities, bicycling infrastructure, and a general disdain for consumerist/commuter-hell that many modern cities and 'burbs have become. Incidentally, this is also the third book that I've read in the past year that mentioned Seaside, the idyllic little town in Florida's panhandle that is considered a modern city planning success and is probably best known as the filming location of the Jim Carrey movie, "The Truman Show". The other books were "The Geography of Nowhere" by James Howard Kunstler (which is kind of a companion piece to this book) and Jack E. Davis' "The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea" in his discussion of alternative developments along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. Anyway, this one made me look around at my own surroundings and made me think about those things that I most appreciate, and which could stand to be improved.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Ron

    This is a good book; an important book. Our way of living -- the place we live in, and its design -- affects every aspect of our life. This book is full of stories and anecdotes about different people and locations and what about city design makes people happy (or not). It isn't sprawl, that's for sure, and you probably already knew that. The book goes a lot deeper and discusses many different case studies and success stories. I'd highly recommend that everyone get educated on urban design. It a This is a good book; an important book. Our way of living -- the place we live in, and its design -- affects every aspect of our life. This book is full of stories and anecdotes about different people and locations and what about city design makes people happy (or not). It isn't sprawl, that's for sure, and you probably already knew that. The book goes a lot deeper and discusses many different case studies and success stories. I'd highly recommend that everyone get educated on urban design. It affects a great many aspects of our lives. I know this isn't the only book out there on the subject. I'd like to think that there might be another that is more easily digestible by the layman. In places I struggled with getting through the book. It is well written, but not necessarily compelling throughout -- maybe more detailed than I would have liked.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Solblid

    Happy City provided me with a new perspective on the problems of modern dispersed cities. Through real-life cases from North and South America, Montgomery showed me creative and amusing solutions to urban problems. He provided me with a glimpse of the underlying structures that dictate the cities, and thus our lives. For instance, are you aware of - how most cities are built for cars? - how city zoning and city sprawl have created long distances, health problems and miserable lives? - how short d Happy City provided me with a new perspective on the problems of modern dispersed cities. Through real-life cases from North and South America, Montgomery showed me creative and amusing solutions to urban problems. He provided me with a glimpse of the underlying structures that dictate the cities, and thus our lives. For instance, are you aware of - how most cities are built for cars? - how city zoning and city sprawl have created long distances, health problems and miserable lives? - how short distances, and safe walking and cycling paths can make you happier? - how public squares can diminish urban loneliness? Finally, Happy City gives the reader hope for a better future of city life, if the citizens engage in transforming their cities. According to Montgomery, the key to a happy life lies in creating a happy city.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jorge Luis

    This is my first review but I'm really pissed off. The book begins to talk about Bogota, the city where I lived, and its past and former major Enrique Peñalosa, most of the information is not accurate is just shit and not trustful. The description of the city before and after Peñalosa is not true. Some of the politics described in the book already existed in other cities of the world. The violence and things mentioned in the book happened in Colombia NOT in Bogotá. Is clear that is any research This is my first review but I'm really pissed off. The book begins to talk about Bogota, the city where I lived, and its past and former major Enrique Peñalosa, most of the information is not accurate is just shit and not trustful. The description of the city before and after Peñalosa is not true. Some of the politics described in the book already existed in other cities of the world. The violence and things mentioned in the book happened in Colombia NOT in Bogotá. Is clear that is any research and the truth is I can trust and continue reading a book with so much crap on it. PLEASE IF YOU MAKE A BOOK, RESEARCH, EXPLORE, READ, LIVE THE EXPERIENCE, INVOLVE WITH PEOPLE, MAKE INFO TRUSTFULLY. Is a shame this book has 4,31 with 1549. Sometimes I hope I'm not mislead with all info I read.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Garret Hunt

    Interesting and inspiring read. I think the thoughts behind cities and the way they're designed is pretty interesting. As you'll hear in the book, many of our cities have been shaped by roads and highways which only came about with the mass production of the automobile. We all live in some type of environment, and it's interesting to think about what shaped yours and what might be the best way to shape the future. We as citizens of our respective cities vote on who represents our interests in ou Interesting and inspiring read. I think the thoughts behind cities and the way they're designed is pretty interesting. As you'll hear in the book, many of our cities have been shaped by roads and highways which only came about with the mass production of the automobile. We all live in some type of environment, and it's interesting to think about what shaped yours and what might be the best way to shape the future. We as citizens of our respective cities vote on who represents our interests in our city and the types of initiatives and direction your city is going. So I think it's intreating to try and gain a better understanding of how to think about our cities and what we might want for them.

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