It’s time to re-happy the city!

We’re launching a campaign to bring back urban happiness.

Photo of two kids running through a public park in Mexico City, smiling and holding kites.
Photo courtesy of Minister of Environment, Mexico City

Oct. 27, 2021

By Charles Montgomery

The pandemic has been tough on city-dwellers around the world. We made huge sacrifices in order to protect each other. We’ve suffered sickness and isolation. We’ve lost loved ones. We’ve seen societal inequities deepen. And we’ve seen some of our most cherished places drained of life. Now it’s time to bring back urban happiness.

For a while, we were all focused on crisis response. Cities raced to implement crucial measures — such as pop-up clinics, bike lanes and public plazas — to address public health and social isolation. People leapt into action to support vulnerable neighbours. We learned that we could rapidly change our cities, and ourselves, when faced with crisis.

We must use that same agility to nurture urban happiness for the long run, and for everyone.

Photo of one of Street Lab's homework hubs, with kids sitting at tables and doing homework together on a street that has been closed to cars.
During the pandemic, New York closed city streets to create safe, outdoor spaces for kids to socialize and do homework together. Photo: Street Lab

Why focus on happiness when the problems facing cities are so dire?

Because when we talk about happiness, we’re talking about more than just good cheer. We’re talking about the fundamental ingredients of human wellbeing. That includes human health. It includes economic opportunities and ecological integrity. It includes the social connections that keep us strong. And it includes a deep commitment to societal equity.

But let’s never forget the power of pure joy. By focusing on happiness, we can help cities recover from the beating they have taken this past couple of years.

We can draw people back to Main Streets and struggling downtowns.

We can bring love back to the walkable, mixed-use places that remain one of our great weapons against climate change and ecological collapse.

And we can make more wonderful places, everywhere.

Cities changed in ways most of us never imagined during the pandemic. We’ve all changed, too, thanks, in part, to the anti-racist and decolonial movements that shone light on urban injustice. Let’s not try to rewind to the pre-pandemic city. That place was failing too many people, in too many ways. It’s time to let our shared values — and the evidence on urban wellbeing — be our guide. It’s time to look at our cities, and ourselves, and figure out how we can work together to nurture healthier, happier, more inclusive cities for everyone.

That’s why we’re launching the campaign to bring back urban happiness. We’ll be sharing a mountain of evidence-based wellbeing actions for cities and city-builders on Twitter and Instagram. We’d also love to hear your own action ideas for urban happiness.

Let’s re-happy our cities, together.

Photo of middle school students smiling and painting curb bumpouts together on the street.
Happiness in action: Students at Glenbrook Middle School take ownership over their street by designing and painting new curb bump-outs. Photo: Jared Korb

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