Insights · November 14th, 2012
This book, Millennial City is being released first as a serial blog. The book is a collaboration with Dennis Walsh and this blog is Part 3 of Chapter 6. To those who made recommendations on title possibilities, thank you! Chapter 6 begins the second half of the book, which we will publish as an e-book when the serialization is completed. The book grew out of conversations that Dennis and I have had about the future of cities, sustainability, and the millennial generation. We think that these three domains, if you will, are coming together to create a new future – and just in time we hope.
CHAPTER Six – Part 3
by Dennis Walsh and Glen Hiemstra
If being connected makes you happy, then the urban design of a city matters. It will determine to some extent whether or not you are truly happy where you live. Places that facilitate social connections and relationships are quality, culturally distinctive places. Safe, clean, beautiful city neighborhoods are happy places to live and good places to raise children. The “environmentâ€ isn’t just about pollution or land conservation, it’s about what and where we Build and its about the quality of human relationships, wellbeing and happiness. It’s about civic pride.
There is a relationship between our cities and our mental and emotional well-being. The relationship of urban form to physical health is finally getting some of the attention it deserves, but how the shape of our communities and neighborhoods affects mental health and the much more elusive concept of happiness remains under-explored.
Urbanization is often blamed for countless social ills. But, a healthy dose of community spirit and identity can go a long way to empower us as we face the difficult challenges ahead. Urban or civic pride is a healthy sign. Many cities have distinctive identities they’re proud of. There are differences between cities like Beijing and Jerusalem. Jerusalem’s prides itself in spiritual values, while Beijing prides itself in political power. Hong Kong’s capitalist way of life is enshrined in their constitution and yet Hong Kong has the highest rate of charitable giving in East Asia.
Cities like Hangzhou, Portland, and Vancouver take pride in being ‘green’, and have gone far beyond national legal requirements in terms of environmental protection. Sustainable-community planning is a growing trend. Copenhagen wants to be known as an “eco-metropole”. Closer to home, New York City’s PlaNYC 2030, sets out an impressive agenda and a compelling vision for a sustainable future. In 2030 Buffalo plans to be the Queen City of the Great Lakes once more, growing again, renewed, and rebuilt. It’s an ambitious vision that will take 20 years to achieve.
For the leaders of shrinking cities, these are perilous times. The loss of property tax base due to scores of nearly worthless abandoned homes can be devastating. But community is shaping the new world. This isn’t a time to quit. It’s time so-called weaker cities became better places to live in and to visit. Strong community involvement strengthens cities and connects people.
Now, in part thanks to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, a few leaders are looking for new ways of doing business, consolidating occupied urban land uses and allowing community engagement to establish projects like compatible infill buildings. The design and condition of cities have a huge impact on our happiness. Easy access to public transport and to cultural and leisure amenities promote happiness. Cities that foster social connections can improve happiness and ultimately enhance the attractiveness of living in them.
Abandoned city blocks are becoming business incubators. Entrepreneurship support is being institutionalized in city government. Community gardening and urban agriculture are embraced. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. But historically, even cities that have died completely have been rebuilt. Anything is possible. With a good plan and willingness to stick to it, cities like Detroit can dream about the next generation of manufacturing, and ultimately succeed.
What do you want to contribute to life and to the Earth? The world needs you to do that. You need to do that or something tells us you’ll be an intern forever. Don’t wait for business or government to give you a job. If you want to be happy, find your home turf and create your own green jobs helping others.
[Glen Hiemstra is the Founder of Futurist.com, and curator of Dothefuture.com. Dennis Walsh is a sustainability futurist from Canada best known for his work as the first publisher of green@work. Contact us through futurist.com]