(Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design)
Penguin Books, 2013
…and its relevance to cycle campaigners in the UK
My Summary Summarised:For the future of humankind we need to become less dependant on fossil fuels. To do this we need to be less dependent on transport and live quite densely, in cities, so cities need to be happy places.
|(C) Penguin Books|
I found the bigger picture presented in this book valuable. For that reason I hope other cycle campaigners will find it worth a read, or at least appreciate my digested read. 'Happy Cities' explains where cycling and walkability fit into the much bigger picture of the sort of urban designs and planning we need for the next century. In cities where councils already get the point that this book makes, cycle infrastructure is already a priority. City councils that repeatedly fail to make even the simplest of improvements to cycle infrastructure (like my own in Southampton) are still living in an old paradigm where motorised transport is the lifeblood of the city and all other needs are subservient to that.
Happiness and the City Council
|From Happy City (c) Penguin|
Why Cities became Rundown in the Post-war period
What Makes People Happy?
Good public transport: Happy cities have the main routes delivered by excellent high speed public transport (Light railways, trams, tubes, or even busses with dedicated traffic free lanes), connected to a network of more local services with a frequency such that people do not need to consult a timetable (at least every 15 minutes) – with live information systems to allow people to know the time of the next service.
|The Emerald Necklace in Boston: Green Space was designed into the city as a set of linear parks. Restored in the 1980's to make the city more liveable. Other cities are trying to retrofit such spaces.|
Community and trust: People feel happiest in places they feel they belong, and people feel most comfortable amongst people they know (even if by that we mean that they pass on the street every morning). According to Montgomery, "our trust in neighbours, police, governments and even total strangers has a huge influence on happiness, and when it comes to life satisfaction, relationships with other people beat income, hands down".
Of course, streets that have been fully fashioned for motor vehicles do not make the best places casual meetings and developing the sort of nodding acquaintances that lead to trust in a neighbourhood. He refers to the work of Sadik-Khan (Streetfight) in New York where they showed that "reducing the number of lanes on carefully selected streets or closing them entirely not only provided pedestrian space and breathed new life into neighborhoods, but also actually improved traffic. Simply painting part of a street to make it into a plaza, bike, or bus lane not only made the street safer, it also improved traffic and increased bike and pedestrian foot traffic and helped local businesses to prosper".
So if we accept this point, the city must be seen to invest as much in public infrastructure (green space, meeting space, walkability, public transport) for the poor as it does for the better-off.
My take home message from this book
The population of the world is expanding fast, and at the same time we need to reduce greenhouse gases to slow global warming.
City dwellers produce around 70% less greenhouse gases than their rural neighbours or sprawl dwellers (due to less use of transport, and the economies of smaller denser housing, and the economies of providing services to them). Blessed be the city dwellers.
People who live away from towns and cities still mostly have to travel to work in those cities. The longer a person’s commute time the unhappier and more stressed they will be. Upon them shall be a curse.
People who need to use roads lots spend lots of time in traffic jams, and lobby road providers to improve the network – the budget for roads will never be enough to catch up with the demand or the induced demand when new roads are created (the M25 effect!).
There is an import lack of equity (in terms of share of the public purse) between those who live in cities, who:
- need less roads;
- often use financially viable public transport, walk or cycle;
- produce less greenhouse gasses;
- for whom providing public services is much more efficient
compared to those who rely on cars for transport who:
- clog up the cities in which other people live with three lane highways carving up residential areas;
- cause pollution affecting other peoples' children;
- demand car-parking taking up much of the potential public space in cities;
- need greater financing for provision of distributed public services.
Investing in well designed city environments with walkable neighbourhoods, good cycle infrastructure and minimal through roads for cars makes for happier citizens and is a good blueprint for the future of humankind.
Thanks as ever to my partner Su White @suukii for her contributions.