The Happy City


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The Happy City Presented by Charles Montgomery | Viterbo University

Jan Gehl , the Danish architect who led the pedestrianisation of Copenhagen, figures prominently. Those dumb-ass gringos, goes the argument, spend all their money making themselves miserable, when they could be happy, vibrant street people instead.


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This thesis is not new; it has been made by Jane Jacobs, Richard Sennett, Richard Rogers and others for more than half a century. There is also a lineage of kicking back, of saying that people like suburbs, that includes Herbert Gans's The Levittowners of , and Robert Bruegmann's book, Sprawl. Montgomery acknowledges these counter-arguments, though not perhaps as fully as he should.


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  • To describe sprawl, he unfairly chooses the very worst example he can find, Stockton , a place 60 miles from San Francisco, whose residents commonly spend four hours a day commuting and that, following the housing crash, has had the worst foreclosure rate of anywhere in the US outside Detroit. He adduces studies that measure the amount of oxytocin or perspiration produced by different built environments — I'm no expert on such research but I suspect that it can be used to prove anything you like. But he points out, correctly, that sprawl is not some natural expression of people's desires, but something actively promoted by government and corporate policies, especially in America.

    His best statistics are his simplest: living in sprawl ages you by four years; there are four times as many traffic deaths on suburban roads as on city streets. I also have a problem with the use of "happy" as the primary adjective for what cities should or can be. Such things as risk, anomie and conflict are intrinsic to cities, and without them we are indeed close to being the computer-animated penguins of the movie.

    Montgomery acknowledges this point, but not to the extent of changing the title of his book. In the end, the main value of Happy City is not in saying something new, but in saying forcefully what can't be said too much.

    Happy City

    It is surely better, most of the time, for most people, to spend as little time as possible in cars and to increase the possibilities of encountering other people and new experiences. As places such as Stockton are still being built, books such as this one are still needed. Topics Society books The Observer. Architecture Urbanisation Building and town and country planning Sustainable development reviews.

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    Retrieved 24 March October 7, CBC Books , September 17, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Categories : Books about urbanism non-fiction books Canadian non-fiction books.

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