Discussion Diary: Happy City

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by Grant Cherwenuk, staff member and rookie book club member

This month we discussed Happy City by Charles Montgomery, led by Anna Purcell, Nelson City Councillor

What does it mean to live in a city? Over half of the worlds population currently resides in an urban environment, and global city populations are projected to continue growing to 65% worldwide by 2050*. In North America our cities harbor 82% of the continental inhabitants and this month’s book, Happy City by Charles Montgomery, invites us to reimagine the places we live. The author posits that urban design is a crucial aspect of our lives and the way we currently design our municipalities is inefficient, dangerous, and isolating. Happy City urges us to change our perspective and realize that our immediate environment has a tremendous consequences for the planet and our own well-being. I wasn’t the only one who was fired up by this new take on cities. As the book club meeting began we were all eager to figure out how to make Nelson a happier city.

Once again the diverse attendees of the meeting chimed in on the issues from a marvelous variety of view points.  Nelson is a wonderful place to live and it’s inhabited by a tight-knit caring society that is a true pleasure to be a part of. We are surrounded by a beautiful natural environment that affords us endless opportunities to get in touch with nature, a community that thrives in the bustling coffee shops and locally owned businesses, happy sidewalk reunions, and frequent summer markets. Nelson has many positive qualities but, is not without it’s issues. Car-free commuting is a challenge and those with mobility issues face an unbelievable amount of barriers to transportation, generating disconnection and loneliness for many. The booming housing market has created a major lack of affordable housing in an area where finding gainful employment is difficult. It is refrain common in other metropolises — the privileged enjoy a great deal of comfort while those on the margins suffer, invisible to the rest of the populace.  During the meeting we reflected on the book’s ideas and dreamed big about what we’d like to see –  using vacant land for affordable housing and park spaces, localized community car-sharing, bus stop libraries, and dreams of a car-free Baker Street. The central themes we kept coming back to were to create spaces for which everyone, of all walks of life, has access to connect and participate. It was truly inspiring to hear and see passions for this beautiful community while highlighting how far we have to go.

The urban design and infrastructure problems we face are unbelievably complex and multi-faceted, they will take the resources and efforts of the entire community to solve, driven by the community’s values and dreams. One book club meeting is barely enough to see the surface, let alone scratch it!  Yes, we have bureaucracy and conflicting options, but this week showed me we also have hope, heart, and the power to create a happy city.

*statistics from the UN research