Canadian journalist Montgomery (The Shark God: Encounters with Ghosts and Ancestors in the South Pacific, 2006) explores the many ideas and movements seeking to change the structures and souls of our cities to make them more meaningful, heart-gladdening places.
Even the most die-hard urban fans will admit to aspects of city life that grate and stress: the frequent lack of neighborhood conviviality, the hateful commutes, the in-your-face lack of social justice, the absence of trust and security. This could go on and on, for we each have our pet peeves, just as we each could enumerate urban-design elements that would make us happy, considering our “unique set of abilities, weaknesses, and desires”: good education, jobs, health; serious engagement with nature and public spaces; comfortable opportunities to socialize; a sense of equality, challenge, civic duty and purpose. Thus, each individual will have a perfect city, but any of the above positives would spark an uptick in our lives. Montgomery’s bugbear—and many will share his preoccupation with the issue—is the unbridled sovereignty of the motor vehicle, from inner city to exurbia. The author presents a wide array of urban-design features that ameliorate many of the negatives of city life. He examines various modes of transport other than the automobile and seeks out the ideal population density for a “happy city.” He finds and describes hundreds of examples of urban redesign that are not only imaginative and affordable, but inspiring, design elements for the common good that can be done—in fact, that have been done.
An elegant charting of the intersection of urban design and the ever-shifting conception and appreciation of happiness.