By 2030, it’s estimated that five billion people will be pounding the concrete caught up in the hustle of urban living. Over the past two decades, urbanisation has been swift and sustained. There’s no sign of it slowing. The rationale is obvious. Cities provide opportunities. We’re flocking to where we can find work. The 20th century wealth explosion packed plenty of dosh into wallets, but that hasn’t necessarily translated to greater happiness. My native countrymen, the British, grew 40% richer in the past 20 years, while the rate of psychiatric disorders and neuroses grew.
The Guardian recently ran an interesting excerpt from a new book by Charles Montgomery that questions the role urban design plays in our wellbeing. He points to research that shows declining social capital makes us all poorer. We’re less connected to our environment, especially people. We don’t engage. Urban dwellers spend a lot of time living to work. They forget about the simple things. The more time you spend commuting to work, the more likely you are to be miserable. Especially if you’re stuck in a car. A Swedish study found people who have a 45 minute commute are 40% more likely to divorce.
People who walk or cycle to work, meanwhile, feel more connected to their city. They’re not just getting the benefits of endorphins from exercise, they have a greater emotional connection. They’re happier. Makes sense to me. I don’t think there’s a human being on earth who enjoys a traffic jam. The congestion. The pollution. The frustration. But so many modern cities are designed to facilitate cars as the priority transport mode. It can’t be long before urban designers start to consider the unthinkable – banning private cars from CBDs. More communal spaces. More community. The social benefits could be huge.