Author discusses what makes a happy city

NANAIMO – Charles Montgomery, author of Happy City, spoke at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre Tuesday night.

During the past 25 years, city design in North America has hurt – not helped – people, according to an author who wrote a book on human happiness.

Author and journalist Charles Montgomery, who wrote a book that explores how the designs of cities impact human happiness,  spoke to a near-capacity crowd at the Shaw Auditorium inside the Vancouver Island Conference Centre on Tuesday night as part of World VIU Days, a week-long event that focused on how culture influences understanding of the world.

In his book, Happy City, which was released in 2013, Montgomery explores how cities have been built and how their designs affect individual happiness. During his presentation, Montgomery provided examples of how cities, such as Bogota, Colombia, and New York City, have made changes to increase happiness among their populations and how urban sprawl has had a negative impact on people’s lives.”People who live on the edges … of cities reported lower levels of social trust. They are less likely to have neighbours and friends over for dinner, they are less likely to play team sports, they are less likely to volunteer or even vote because their time has been stalling by the miles,” Montgomery said. “These affect all aspects of our lives and in fact people, couples, who have more than a 48-minute commute are 45 per cent more likely to be divorced after 10 years.”

Montgomery said that throughout the last 25 years, North American cities and regions have designed urban systems that are hurting, not helping, people.

“Nanaimo, like many cities, spent 50 years pouring all of its wealth into dispersal, or what some people call sprawl, into urban systems that pushed people far a part, made kids less healthy, destroyed family budgets and were bad for the environment,” Montgomery said.Montgomery stressed the need for cities to improve downtown centres by investing more money and resources into them.”Nanaimo, like other cities, has a great opportunity to get richer, happier, healthier, by investing in the poor,” he said.Among the areas downtown that were of concern for Montgomery was Diana Krall Plaza, which he called “disastrous.” Montgomery said there is potential for change and that local politicians need to come up with ways to attract more people downtown.

“These places are only going to thrive if you add more people and not just people driving there, but people living there. In your close and single-family neighborhoods you need to take away parking requirements, so people can do what they want with their own land,” he said.