Does Urbanism Correlate with Happiness?
"Wealth alone does not make for a happy and successful society," determined the Legatum Prosperity Index. "Happy citizens are produced as much by democracy, freedom, and entrepreneurial opportunity as they are by a growing economy." This index is one of the few, including the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, to track social capital and health. But cities like Vancouver and Bogota have begun exploring "spiritual urbanism" and "what more [cities] can do to provide for physical, social, emotional, and spiritual needs."
Vancouver's Healing Cities initiative found, "[o]xytocin, the trust hormone, goes up with eye contact. We get a whole lot more of it while walking. Which is just the beginning of balm to the spirit fostered in walkable neighborhoods." Former Mayor Enrique Peñalosa, the leader of Bogota's urban happiness movement also argues for the importance of walkability to mental health: "There are a few things we can agree on about happiness. You need to fulfill your potential as a human being. You need to walk. You need to be with other people." With the expansion of its bus, bike, and pedestrian networks, Bogota's murder rates and traffic deaths have fallen.
There is currently no "Urban Happiness Index," laments Borys, but Vancouver's and Bogota's experiments in linking urban design to happiness show that, as Peñalosa says, "designing a city can be a very powerful means to generate happiness."