The Crisis of Happiness
As a lead-up to the February 20th launch party, and the presentation by guest speaker and author Chris Turner, I wanted to take a look at some of the progressive ideas being implemented in cities abroad that are making drastic changes to the way humanity is able live.
The view of London as a commuter nightmare is not one that most North Americans would readily apply, but, in spite of the classic double-decker buses and subway system, London has had to take drastic measures to improve air quality and reduce traffic congestion in their city core.
According to an Associated Press article posted on MSNBC, Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London, increased commuter charges and are going after the big polluters, targeting 4x4 vehicles and luxury sedans. The average commuter pays $16 a day to drive in the city; the 33,000 vehicles targeted under the new legislation will pay $49 a day, if approved.. Even NYC is proposing a 'sin tax' for cars in Lower Manhattan.
Think a 'sin tax' on driving is a steep price to pay? Paris plans to ban suburban cars from the city centre by 2012 to reduce noise, pollution and congestion and recreate "the art of urban joy".
The Pompidou expressway, stretching from the Louvre to the Pont de Sully, is covered in sand. This is not a natural disaster, or a corporate publicitiy event, but an intentional act to reclaim city streets for the citizens of Paris, a city which Kunstler referred to as a "human-scale touch on the urban form", during the summer months. The Paris Plage, as the summer road-to-beach transformation is called, is part of an on-going movement in Paris to transition the city streets from the motorized masses and return them to Parisian people.
An article called The Happy City, written by Charles Montgomery, details French, among other, reclamation projects designed to increase human interaction. Montgomery states that these changes will "change not just streets but the very soul of urban spaces." -- and we tend to agree!
Under the direction Enrique Penalosa, Mayor of Bogota, and in an effort to combat a city "mired in poverty, chaos, violence and crippling traffic", this South American city ditched a freeway intended to ease the commute of the suburbanite masses (ED: Sound familiar?), and instead invested in the "frequencey of positive interaction". By building "parks, hundreds of kilometers of bikes paths and pedestrian 'freeways' [and] an efficient rapid bus system" the happiness of the city increased. How do you measure happiness? Road fatalities fell by 33% and the murder rate dropped by 40%. Now wouldn't that make you happy?
Bogota is on a roll and has voted to ban private cars from rush hour traffic by 2015. Imagine the changes in a city where rush hour traffic was concentrated on mass transit or pedestrian scale mobility. Montgomery quotes John Helliwell, a University of British Columbia professor emeritus and economist, when he states "[f]requency of positive interaction is the key."
Through these examples Montgomery emulates Chris Turner who, in his book The Geography of Hope, demonstrates that the changes we need to make in Windsor are already being made in other cities in the world with amazing success. Montgomery's article details some of the largest cities making even bigger changes successfully increasing happiness among their citizens. The message of ScaleDown.ca echoes the refrain of Montgomery -- we can make drastic changes to 'they way we have always done things' and not only survive but thrive as a community, an economy and a part of the human collective.
Windsor can, must, and will make the changes necessary to revitalize itself through the work and efforts of an engaged citizenry. We, as members of that citizenry, must decide whether we want to be as the French, making changes to increase an already high standard of living or wait until we are like Bogota, ready to pull out all the stops to make the changes necessary just to survive.
International cities are making huge changes, implementing real ideas, to combat the erosion of urban happiness. What changes have you seen, or would like to see, in Windsor to increase, intensify or re-establish our urban happiness? Post your thoughts in our comments section
All quotes in the article, unless otherwise stated, come from Charles Montgomery's article "The Happy City"