Here & Now 6: Health, Happiness & Wellbeing


1. Welcome
2. Editorial

6. Governing the city: lessons for would-be urbanists
Nicholas Falk AoU reviews the recent OECD report on good governance

10. Detroit – too different for dialogue?
Gareth Potts looks at what the UK’s older cities can learn from this American example

13. Middle City Passages: an international competition exploring urban movement
Chris Sharp AoU reflects on the process and outcome of a recent design competition to smooth the interface between large and small infrastructure

16. Josep Lluís Sert and the Havana Plan
Tony Reddy AoU looks back at what might have been had Castro’s revolution not stalled Sert’s plan for Havana

20. Cities Alive: Rethinking green infrastructure
Arup’s recently published report charts the way forward for landscape architecture. Kieran Toms YU talks to its authors.

23. A place for everyone
Lucia das Neves shares her ambitions for The Glass-House 2015/16 debate series

26. Health, happiness and wellbeing in focus

27. Happy City
Simon Hicks YU relives Charles Montgomery keynote talk at the AoU Congress in Birmingham

30. Cities and our mental health
Are cities good for our mental health? David Rudlin AoU reviews the assumptions

33. London going Dutch on a bicycle…
As London experiments with ‘Mini Hollands’, Henk Bouwman AoU and Anita Dirix look at other ways the UK can learn from the Dutch

36. Have you ever wanted to devise a bulletproof, empirical justification for creating genuinely urban places?
George Weeks YU investigates

40. Designing healthy behaviours
Stephen Gallagher speaks to Rachel Toms to find out how we can make better places that encourage healthier lives

49. My own view is…
We must empower collaborative people to act! says Jane Briginshaw AoU

50. Urban idiocy
Brilliant but flawed ideas for the city

54. …And a final thought…
Back to the future, by Yolande Barnes AoU






‘Health, happiness and wellbeing’ are features of our individual and collective lives that we probably recognise more by their absence than their presence. For most of us, with the good fortune of security in the essentials necessary for life, the opportunity to pursue these elements to enhance our existence is something to which we devote much time and energy.

It is worth remembering that for many people and communities, survival and security are not guaranteed. The values that we use to evaluate the quality of urban life should be universally applicable, so although happiness, etcetera are important, they are not the starting point for improving urban places worldwide.

Good urbanism is also probably recognised more in its absence. The places that we visit through our Urbanism Awards selection process are often surprised by their nomination. The people responsible for creating and sustaining great places do what feels natural and inevitable. They don’t (generally) seek recognition but are (usually) delighted and surprised to find that what they are doing is exceptional.

The Academy’s Awards are the apotheosis of our existential purpose of learning from place. Our structured evaluation and recording of the ways in which places achieve good urbanism is a way of stimulating active awareness, and raising public expectations of how places should be.

At the heart of a community’s self-image, what Maslow termed ‘self- actualisation’ at the apex of his hierarchy of needs, are the tangible and intangible assets that they share. At our Spring Debate on the nature and purpose of public space, Nicholas Falk AoU referred to the importance of ‘common-wealth’. Equality of access to that commonwealth is an essential component of great places, and health and welfare are at least as important components of that wealth as economic and material assets.

There was a lot of happiness and wellbeing evident at our Birmingham Congress, although the fringe activity might not have been a model, as a regular routine, for healthy living. A major component of upbeat mood was the palpable sense of belonging – another of Maslow’s criteria for a fulfilled existence.

The Academy of Urbanism is a home for those who share an interest in understanding and celebrating great places. Over the past decade we have grown in number, in experience and in influence. As we develop our plans for the future, we must embrace the broadest conception of urbanism and of the common-wealth we share.

And be happy doing it.

Steven Bee AoU



That bottom-up community-led initiatives are important in creating better, workable cities is not a new idea. Indeed, it is one that we have often picked up in these pages and this issue is no exception. Yet the more we report on what is happening in towns and cities in the UK and Ireland, and importantly around the world, the clearer the message becomes.

What is also clear is that such initiatives do not happen in a vacuum. Nicholas Falk AoU picks up on this in his review of another OECD report published earlier this year, Governing the City, which although looks at cities by population size, notes that success is not only measured by numbers of people but also by income levels and job creation. To create a strong local economy, cities need to find ways of mobilising private investment. An important contributor to creating great towns and cities is finding ways of harnessing both knowledge and energy bottom-up. Gareth Potts also notes this in his riposte to the idea that England’s North might be comparable with the US city of Detroit only because of decline and not, as Potts argues, because the city actually has a lot to teach us, one lesson being the importance of leveraging initiatives that swell from the ground up.

Along similar lines Kieran Toms YU points to the High Line, a community-led regeneration project in New York, in his interview with Arup’s Tom Armour and George Arvanitis AoU on their Cities Alive report. Clearly then as Lucia das Neves suggests in her review of the 2015/16 Glass-House debate series, it is not just resources of capital and land that are important, it is the resource within the community itself, particularly people and their relationships.

The In Focus section takes a specific look at health, happiness and wellbeing in cities. While there are things that we can do to improve people’s sense of health, happiness and wellbeing in towns and cities, in the end, as David Rudlin AoU points out when he questions whether cities are good for us, environments need to be flexible and responsive to community needs and controllable in part by local people.

Alastair Blyth AoU

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