Happy Cities, Happy People

By Diane Simunek

Have you ever wondered what makes you happy? Is it the warm cup of coffee you enjoy in the morning or the feeling of coming home after a hard day’s work? Maybe it’s riding a bike around your neighborhood or watching your kids joyfully run around a playground. There’s no easy way to pinpoint what exactly makes you happy, but understanding the many complexities of what does is exactly what Charles Montgomery aims to do. Montgomery is the author of the award-winning book, Happy City, and he was also one of the keynote speakers at the EcoDistricts Summit that I was recently fortunate enough to attend.

In the spirit of creating happier and more sustainable cities, Montgomery discussed his research as exploring the intersections of urban design and the science of happiness, to create a new vision for future cities. His opening remarks set the tone for the summit ahead.

During our "urban lab" field trip.

During our “urban lab” field trip.

The three-day conference consisted of a variety of approaches for sharing information amongst the diverse attendees. I attended educational seminars, discussion groups, and a research forum. I met urban planners, lawyers, government officials, scientist, and students, all working toward a similar cause. I even went on a field trip that used DC as an “urban lab” where we saw the Linnean Park urban stream restoration project, visited the Sidwell Friends “Green” Middle School, and explored the RiverSmart Washington stormwater reduction project. The energy was invigorating and the conversations never ended.

What struck me most was the quantity of overlapping and complementary efforts being made, and hearing about the successes already achieved. When looking at these projects from start to completion, it’s clear that “It All Starts with Science.”

EPA research is only the beginning of the process, and it is sometimes easy to lose sight of how much positive impact the tools that we develop have down the road. For example, EPA researchers attending the summit demonstrated the EnviroAtlas, a user-friendly mapping tool. The number of requests for collaboration afterwards was astonishing. Research is important and EPA is working hard to provide it for our communities.

The summit ended with keynote speaker Jason Roberts, co-creator of The Better Block. He said “stop cheerleading, start championing” and although cheerleading is great, I think we can all agree doing is even better. Just like EPA is doing research, I encourage everyone to do their part, working towards a happier and more sustainable society. You can even start thinking about what makes you happy during your next cup of coffee.

About the Author: Diane Simunek is a Student Contractor with EPA’s Science Communications Team.


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