Our Mayors of Happy

“There is a myth, sometimes widespread, that a person need only do inner work, in order to be alive like this; that a man is entirely responsible for his own problems; and that to cure himself, he need only change himself. . .The fact is, a person is so far formed by his surroundings, that his state of harmony depends entirely on his harmony with his surroundings.” Christopher Alexander, The Timeless Way of Building

Cover of Happy City by Charles Montgomery

‘Happy City’ explores the intersection of urban design and the science of happiness.

I just cracked open the spine of my latest library book, Happy City, by Charles Montgomery. Already in the first chapter, I can see why David Suzuki has called it “a brilliant, entertaining, and vital book.”

Montgomery opens with a chase scene through Bogota, Columbia. Your mind might automatically channel the Fast and the Furious, but this is a different kind of chase scene. It involves bicycles and a beloved mayor, Enrique Penalosa, The Mayor of Happy.

In the face of a sobering future for cities, one in which cities are the source of most of the world’s pollution and 80% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and will bear the brunt of climate change, Penalosa has preached a message of hope. Rather than see unprecedented urban growth as a problem, he sees it as an opportunity to reinvent urban life. (I concur;))

Penalosa was first elected as the mayor of Bogota in 1997, not on a promise of economic growth, but on a promise of designing the city for happiness. “”And what are our needs for happiness?” he asked. “We need to walk, just as birds need to fly. We need to be around other people. We need beauty. We need contact with nature. And most of all, we need not to be excluded. We need to feel some sort of equality.”” With that, states the author, “The humble sidewalk, the park, the bike path, and the bus were suddenly elevated to the psycho-spiritual realm.”

Already I sense this book is in sync with what I’ve been thinking and feeling–except I’m focusing on suburbs that build happiness as they grow-up and become their own mini-urban centres. So with each chapter I’m going to share some thoughts on the book and then explore what’s going on here in Durham Region. I’d love to hear from you as I go!

Who are our “mayors of happy”–the people in our region who have vision that gets people excited?

How about Kerri King,  and the Art of Transition awards? Or Don Lovisa and the dLab at Durham College?

Tell me who you vote for in the comments below, or via email reburbs @ gmail.com



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  1. Pingback: Fiesta Week: Eat, Drink, Be Happy | reburbs

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