We are now very much an urban species and, with this in mind, the next 21st Century Challenges event on Thursday 26 June asks how we can make city-living a happier experience.
By 2050 three-quarters of the global population are expected to live in cities and we will be building the equivalent of a new city the size of Birmingham every week for the next 30 years. Such rapid urbanisation brings challenges, not just to the physical environment but also to quality of life and people’s subjective feelings of wellbeing, happiness and life satisfaction.
Author and historian Leo Hollis joins the panel of four experts this Thursday and is adament that urbanisation need not be a negative experience. “Cities seem to amplify the dangerous division between us,” he says. “But they also offer the best possibility for finding a solution. There is an overlooked power to urban life that can be found in the dense interweaving of everyday lives that make cities unique, and promises a more equitable, creative and sustainable future.”
So how can we go about measuring wellbeing? It’s relatively straightforward to quantify some city factors – income levels, employment rates, level of resources and services, available infrastructure – but it is much harder to calculate something as subjective as happiness.
Dr George MacKerron, Lecturer in Economics, thinks he is getting close to finding an answer, having collected over one million responses using an innovative iPhone app called ‘Mappiness’. “We designed Mappiness to crowdsource data and help us understand the impact of a person’s immediate surroundings on their wellbeing, teaching us more about the geography of happiness,” he says.
“We have found that people are substantially happier in green and natural environments than they are in urban environments. This provides new evidence about the link between nature and wellbeing, and could ultimately provide new insights for policymakers.”
As we learn more about people’s experiences of living in cities and urban spaces, how can we use this to make cities around the world happier and more liveable?
Come along to Escape to the city on Thursday 26 June (6.30 – 8.00pm) to find out more and have your say. All are welcome to attend. Tickets £10 / £7 RGS-IBG members. A limited number of complimentary tickets are available to students and RGS-IBG schools members.
Lieutenant Colonel Paul Hammett is Commanding Officer of the 42 Engineer Regiment (Geographic) at the British Army, Ministry of Defence.
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Damien McCloud is an Associate Director at Arup.
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