Happiness and Urban Spaces

Happiness and Urban Spaces

What happiness is? “Are you happy?” is the question I used to ask my friends and colleges What announced me is that no matter what answer people gave at last, almost all of them looked puzzling and been offended at first time. It seems that for most people do not know what happiness is, or they cannot express what they feel the happiness is.

Urban happiness is a concept which can be defined through the observation both of many tangible and intangible aspects of a place and the activities carried out by the people who live and use it. As Lynch (1960, p.1) affirms, “at every instant, there is more than the eye can see, more than the ear can hear, a setting or a view waiting to be explored. Nothing is experience by itself, but always in relation to its surroundings, the sequences of events leading up to it, the memory of past experiences”.

Indeed, if happiness is a general concept investigated by philosophers, economists, sociologists, psychologists and anthropologists in different periods, often achieving results only depending by the state – financial, psychological, etc.. of people, the definition of urban happiness – although takes in account elements by different disciplines, assumes its base from the observation of the relationship between people, places and activities.

The intangible qualities of a place consist of all the elements that can be perceived by the senses – smell and noise, but also sensations of touch, sight and taste, of its memory, cultural tradition, etc.

All of these, both individually and in their overall perception, can influence our feelings, actions, general well-being, and our appraisal of what surrounds us. The perception of the city can be separate or partial and combined with other feelings: the overall image is the union of all stimuli.

The tangible elements are related to the ur- ban fabric and a series of morphological, natural, and historical invariants. These invariants are closely interrelated to the life of the city and its inhabitants, and also to the perception the latter have of that place. Co- lours, materials, smells and sounds become an inseparable part of any one spot in the city, and thus components of the urban happiness. One of the concepts which helps to circumscribe the many aspects which can describe the urban happiness include the place making, in the sense of “the art of making places for people” -to paraphrase the definition given in By design: urban design in the planning system (Cabe, Detr, 2000) – because it “includes the way places work and such matters as community safety, as well as how they look. It concerns the connections between people and places, movement and urban form, nature and the built fabric, and the processes for ensuring successful villages, towns and cities”.

Following list is meant as an open and flexible tool for academics, practitioners and administrators for the creation or enhancement of happy places.

an happy place is a space which can transmit feeling of happiness to everyone who use it.

1. It is important that both the place identity and the intangible characteristics of the site and its surroundings are present in the public space.

2.It is important to encourage the use of the place by people of different life cycles, from children to the elderlies and do not have architectural barriers which can discourage the entrance in that space.

3.A public space should allow different types of functions (game, breaks, movement). It is also desirable to have the possibility to perform gymnastic activities with the presence of small equipment or a dedicated lane.

4.The possibility to make actions that normally are not performed, such as walking barefoot in the water or in dedicated areas of public space, creates a feeling of freedom and joy.

5.The composite elements of the space should have an appropriate balance between the elements of nature, landscape and equipment.

6.The presence of water in different shapes promotes the vitality of the place.

7.The presence of artistic elements in the different forms is desirable.

8.The presence of sculptures, games, or other elements and amenities which can cause a smile to a person favours a state of happiness.

9.The public space should have the natural lighting during the day and artificial in the other hours of use. Artificial light in daily hours should be avoided.

10.An adequate state of cleanliness and maintenance must be respected.

11.The public space has to give sense of security and safeness in those who walk along it.

12.It is important that there is an absence or controlled presence of noise coming from means of transport.

13.The possibility to perceive smells coming by natural materials which compose the space provides a feeling of happiness.

14.The use of natural materials, preferably local, with the possibility to experiment touch perception gives a feeling of well- being.

15.The possibility of doing actions – such as walking, watching, etc.. – with a moderate or slow pace promotes opportunities for breaks in the space.

16.The feeling of being able to contribute to the life of that place increases the feeling of belonging of it.

17.The educational function which a place possess increases its intrinsic value.

18.The possibility of use the space in different seasons and weather conditions improves its liveability and the will of contributing to its good state of maintenance.

As Charles Montgomery has recently affirmed in his “Happy City”, if city planners and developers paid more attention to the growing body of knowledge about happiness, they could create cities that enhance the contentment of those who live in them.




Ar.Taha Padrawala (B.Arch M.Plan) – Architect, City Designer, Rural Planner & Academician

Principal Architect at Al-Taha Architects, Vadodara – Assistant Professor at C.o.A., S.V.I.T. ,Vasad

Mo: +91-9909648933- Email: – Website:


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