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Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design

After decades of unchecked sprawl, more people than ever are moving back to the city. Dense urban living has been prescribed as a panacea for the environmental and resource crises of our time. But is it better or worse for our happiness? Are subways, sidewalks and tower dwelling an improvement on the car-dependence of sprawl?

Award-winning journalist Charles Montgomery finds answers to such questions at the intersection between urban design and the emerging science of happiness, during an exhilarating journey through some of the world’s most dynamic cities. He meets the visionary mayor who introduced a “sexy” lipstick-red bus to ease status anxiety in Bogotá; the architect who brought the lessons of medieval Tuscan hill towns to modern-day New York City; the activist who turned Paris’s urban freeways into beaches; and an army of American suburbanites who have transformed their lives by hacking the design of their streets and neighbourhoods.

Rich with history and new insights from psychology, neuroscience and Montgomery’s own urban experiments, Happy City is an essential tool for understanding and improving our own communities. The message is as surprising as it is hopeful: by retrofitting our cities for happiness, we can tackle the urgent challenges of our age. The happy city, the green city and the low-carbon city are the same place, and we can all help build it.

Finalist: Shaughnessy Bishop-Cohen Prize for Political Writing
Finalist: Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction
Winner: Robert Bruss Real Estate Book Awards
Longlist: Charles Taylor Prize for Non-fiction



A brilliant, entertaining and vital book. Montgomery deftly leads us from our misplaced focus on money, cars and stuff to consider what makes us truly happy. Then everything changes–the way we live, work and play in humanity’s major habitat, the city.

—David Suzuki

The place we live is key to our happiness. In Happy City, Charles Montgomery helps us understand why and provides a guidebook for living a happier, more fulfilling and meaningful life.

—Richard Florida

It was only a matter of time before someone figured out that if there were new things to say about happiness and a new interest in the evolution of urban life, the two subjects could be linked together. That is what Charles Montgomery, a Canadian journalist, has set out to do in a book titled, logically enough, Happy City. To an admirable extent, he succeeds.

—Alan Ehrenhalt, New York Times

Witty, erudite and intrepid, Charles Montgomery combines superb reportage with bold thinking to explore how one of our century’s defining creations, the megacity, need not be alarming or alienating. Refitting cities for sustainability, and for a new, necessary kind of ‘happiness’ may sound utopian, but Charles Montgomery builds a vision and argument out of real people, real situations, real solutions…. A philosophy of city that is also a philosophy of being–the deepest kind of urban design.

—Jurors, Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Non-fiction Prize (Finalist)

Montgomery writes with rare wit and erudition about the psychology of urban life. A wake-up call for citizens and planners alike, Happy City takes you by the scruff of the neck and shakes you into questioning everything around you. It not only shows us that we can and must make our cities better, but it tells us how.

—Nicholas Humphrey

View excerpts from the book

The Secrets Of The World’s Happiest Cities – The Guardian

Fixing Broken Neighborhoods – Slate

Why We’re Sometimes Kind Without Reason – The Atlantic

On The Sunny Side Of The Street – enRoute Magazine

How Urban Design Influences How Many Friends You Have – Fast Co.Exist

The Safest Suburb In The World Did It By Ending The Culture Of Cars – Fast Co.Exist

When Neighbors Tore Down Their Fences, Incredible Things Happened – Fast Co.Exist

Wal-Mart: An Economic Cancer On Our Cities – Salon