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Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design

4.34  ·  Rating details ·  4,359 ratings  ·  494 reviews
Charles Montgomery’s Happy City will revolutionize the way we think about urban life.

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 condo towers an improveme
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published November 12th 2013 by Doubleday Canada (first published September 11th 2012)
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Jud Barry
Feb 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
When I carry a book's ideas around in my head and, day after day, look at my surroundings through the eyes of those ideas, that's when I have to think that a book has had an impact on me. Such is the case with this book. I didn't zip through it, enthralled, but I engaged it every day--mostly in nibbles during my lunch hour--and it would form the touchstone of my thoughts on my commuting drive home.

Ah, the commuting drive. Ah, the home: the suburban home, the man's-home-is-his-castle cul de sac h
Book Riot Community
Have you seen the terrific scathing TED talk of professional urban design gadfly James Howard Kunstler “The Ghastly Tragedy of The Suburbs,” in which he outlines all that is wrong with malls, suburban housing developments, and modern life, generally? I loved it because I frequently weep in the aisle of my minimall’s big box store buying back-to-school supplies and wonder why can’t we all live in the so-called “blue zones” (the places in the world where people live longest and are the happiest) w ...more
Mireille Duval
This book delighted me and made me angry at the same time. Delighted at every happy city described - particularly Copenhagen, now I just must visit Denmark and stare at all the Bjarke Ingels buildings forever (or I could just go to New York, I guess, but I did that already!). And of course, angry at the freaking cars that our countries seem to be built around. You guys, I just hate cars so much. I hate driving them, I hate paying for them through my taxes, I hate having to be wary when I cross t ...more
TS Chan
May 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As much as I enjoy my non-fiction reads, this was not a topic that I ever thought I'll find myself reading. I was browsing the wonderful bookshops in London, specifically Foyles at Charing Cross when the book's cover design and title caught my attention on one of the themed-display tables. After reading the back-cover blurb, the concept of the urban design being a happiness project (an oversimplification but you get the idea) intrigued me and I decided to look for this title at the local library ...more
Kamila Kunda
Living in Amsterdam, the city being very against car monoculture, I was reading Charles Montgomery’s “Happy City. Transforming Our Lives through Urban Design” with relief - relief that I do not live in any of the American cities described in the book. Amsterdam is one of the happiest and most liveable cities in the world. The majority of people cycle to school or work, streets are safe for children, adults and the elderly as well as for people with disabilities. The city is one of greenest in Eu ...more
Aug 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
[4.5 Stars] Another urban design reading staple, and in my opinion a staple for anyone wanting to be a leader in their community.
Feb 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: eco
Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design. Title says it all, really. Montgomery's arguments felt counterintuitive to me, but maybe that's revealing. It's easy, for example, to sit in a commute thinking "this is just the way it is and how it must be." Actually, the cities we live in were designed for cars and then cars filled the space. If we make space for more cars, then more cars will line up in commutes. But if we make space for bicycles or mass transit, people will use the spa ...more
Ian Robertson
Dec 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
It’s been almost a decade since journalist and author Charles Montgomery published his debut book, the Charles Taylor Prize winning The Last Heathen. Fortunately for us he has spent much of that time researching and experiencing urban life at its best and worst, and in focussed, insightful, and engaging prose he tells us how urban design enhances or detracts from our daily lives. Happy City is not about the environment, healthy living, or meeting our neighbors, though these subjects are covered. ...more
Sue Bridehead (A Pseudonym)
Over the two-week period during which I read this book, I drove my partner crazy talking about it. It's on a subject with which I'm already obsessed: urban sprawl and urban design.

I grew up in a New England village (founded in the 1630s) embedded in a larger suburb. Ergo most of my life from birth to age 18 was entirely walkable or bike-able. I did not realize how spoiled I was to walk to all my schools (K-12), to my choice of two ice cream parlors, to a bank, a library, a post office, many dif
Dec 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
Happy City has the potential to be one of the most transformative books you can read regarding improving your health, happiness and connection to your community. Charles Montgomery makes a strong case that in our quest to have the big house, white-picket fence, two-car garage and 2.5 kids, many people have exchanged square footage for a long commute. This distance separates us from our work, our friends, our neighbors and most importantly our happiness as well as being generally unsustainable fr ...more
Rachel C.
Good intro to urban design.

Basically, Montgomery's thesis is that cars are evil.

"Americans were actually spending more hours commuting than they got in vacation time."

"[E]xchaning a long commute for a short walk to work has the same effect on happiness as finding a new love."

"[P]eople who endure long drives tend to experience higher blood pressure and more headaches than those with shorter commutes. They get frustrated more easily and tend to be grumpier when they get to their destination."

Jan 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
I love this book and basically can't shut up about it.
Elizabeth Tai
Jul 31, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Finally, after a string of blah reads, I score something truly amazing. I have always loved books about sustainable living, minimalism, and this book combines both of my loves. Montgomery tells us that happiness is not an accidental thing - sometimes it can be caused by design. Urban living has torn apart village living, tossing people into isolated McMansions, taking away their freedom of mobility without dependence on fossil fuels and thus causing a ripple effect of unhappiness throughout soci ...more
Mar 02, 2014 rated it did not like it
Really disappointed by this book. It's just the standard urbanist gospel that we've all likely read before--nothing new here. The author thinks city life will solve all our problems with unhappiness, loneliness, obesity, or lack of spiritual fulfillment.

He gives very short shrift to all the legitimate reasons people might choose "sprawl" over cities (remember, 8/10 Americans still prefer single-family homes). Fear of crime and desire for privacy and space get passing mentions, but the author see
Sep 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: urban-planning
This is by far the best written book I've yet read in the areas of urban planning, psychology, and cities. I was very pleasantly surprised by the scale of this book as well as the consistent level of detail, the quality of arguments, figures, and anecdotes, and the author's writing skill. It's wide ranging, yet extremely well connected, and Montgomery does an excellent job at introducing, explaining, and making arguments in support of all the concepts covered in this voluminous book. I especiall ...more
Aug 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
Very definitely a thought provoking work of journalism. One might think that the topic of urban design would be utterly dry- but not in Montgomery's treatment. He presents the subject through individual case studies, humanizing and dramatizing a hidden reality that rules our lives. The idealized twentieth century concepts of suburban sprawl and segregated zoning have poisoned American culture to a remarkable degree- and yet much of the information here is virtually unknown to Americans.
Bottom l
Shari Henry
Sep 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
If you care about your city and your lifestyle, read this book. Montgomery plays part psychologist, part sociologist, and part architect as he walks the reader through the philosophy, history, and planning behind building great and not-so-great cities. He offers real solutions, my favorite when discussing civic engagement:

"We asked everyone in the neighborhood to come to our planning meetings, but we realized that the alcoholics, the guys who just sit around all day and drink in the park, never
Mar 15, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Remarkably well written and logically organized, Happy City proposes urban planning that is flexible, and able to respond to climate change, population growth, migration, economic downturns and social & cultural shifts. Also, big points from me for not ignoring the roles that classism and racism have played and continue to play in how cities and towns are developed, and for balancing vision with approaches for dealing with the realities of regulations and big capitalism. ...more
Jan 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: urban-science
A must-read for anyone interested in modern urban problems, especially sprawl and exurbanisation. An awesome, simple book that relates to transport, human psychology and architecture in order to try to convince the reader, that the deep-rooted malaise of our cities can and must be cured. If only it were written a bit better, it would surely get 5 stars from me!
Aaron Bergunder
Mar 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I think it's become annoying how much I talk about this book. Please read it.
Jake Goretzki
Feb 06, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
Surprisingly, I found this all rather inspiring and constructive. It makes a strong, well supported and well case-studied case for addressing, well, things that most of us will feel are obvious about what's wrong with (many) cities and the kind of human scale 'software' and 'hardware' measures that can make life, frankly, happier.

To its credit, it wears its green politics lightly enough to not feel like a sermon (I live a greener life than most of my peers - I don't drive; I live in a tiny home
Peter Foley
Nov 26, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: urbanism

The Happy City is a breezy run through of urban ideas that challenge the dispersed city and promotes urban design to enable community, relationships and well, happiness. If you are familiar with the ideas of Jane Jacobs, Jan Gehl, William H. Whyte, the New Urbanists, and the work of the Penalosa’s in Columbia, there is little new here with possibly the exception of a more defined trajectory leading to improved ‘happiness’.

For a book that could be viewed more about urban form and culture, I was i
May 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I wouldn't have guessed that urban planning would prove such a fascinating topic to me, but last year I gave high marks to Jeff Speck's Walkable City and I am now doing the same for Charles Montgomery's Happy City. The author addresses the environmental and fiscal reasons for making biking and walking safer, mass transit available and convenient,having more green spaces and mixed use developments, and how improving those areas even makes it better for those who still choose (or need)to drive. He ...more
Jun 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: environment
I found this book through Mr. Money Mustache and agree that they are a good match. From deep-thoughts on what makes people truly happy and how to build them into your life, the author shares an appreciation for walk-able cities, bicycling infrastructure, and a general disdain for consumerist/commuter-hell that many modern cities and 'burbs have become.

Incidentally, this is also the third book that I've read in the past year that mentioned Seaside, the idyllic little town in Florida's panhandle
Jul 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Happy City provided me with a new perspective on the problems of modern dispersed cities. Through real-life cases from North and South America, Montgomery showed me creative and amusing solutions to urban problems. He provided me with a glimpse of the underlying structures that dictate the cities, and thus our lives. For instance, are you aware of
- how most cities are built for cars?
- how city zoning and city sprawl have created long distances, health problems and miserable lives?
- how short d
Garret Hunt
Jun 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Interesting and inspiring read. I think the thoughts behind cities and the way they're designed is pretty interesting. As you'll hear in the book, many of our cities have been shaped by roads and highways which only came about with the mass production of the automobile. We all live in some type of environment, and it's interesting to think about what shaped yours and what might be the best way to shape the future. We as citizens of our respective cities vote on who represents our interests in ou ...more
Tara - Running 'n' Reading
Nov 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
I was introduced to the book via a study that I participated in at my church; I had no idea how engaging it would be and what great discussion it would prompt. We all really enjoyed it!

The author does a fantastic job of presenting evidence and stories in a way that promotes interest and personal reflection; we used this material to discuss ways in which we can advocate for changes in our city that would provide better resources, and happier lives, for residents who don’t currently have access t
Matthew Chua
Apr 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Great book that really provides a good overarching introduction into urban planning. If you're already familiar with the concepts of New Urbanism, a lot of the book will discuss concepts you're already familiar with but there are still nuggets of wisdom and relevation to be found. Montgomery uses a lot of case studies to help illustrate his points and they do a lot to helping visualize and see the concepts he's proposing and how they would work in real life.
Mar 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: psychology, favorites
This is one of those rare books that will leave you seeing the world differently. I loved how thoroughly the author looked at the current urban system in North America, and how well he incorporated specific examples for what does or doesn't work, and how that impacts people.

I can honestly say I will live the rest of my life differently because of this book. I cannot recommend this book enough.
Nick Blackbourn
Apr 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: pop-sci
I found this to be an inspiring book. I was only hoping for some interesting discussion around urban design and how to improve mobility, but I've come away with much more than that. We are the city and, as its inhabitants, have the right to change it. :-)
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As we wrap up our 2018 Reading Challenge, we decided to ask our Goodreads coworkers a simple yet tough question: What were the ...
212 likes · 376 comments
“The city is not merely a repository of pleasures. It is the stage on which we fight our battles, where we act out the drama of our own lives. It can enhance or corrode our ability to cope with everyday challenges. It can steal our autonomy or give us the freedom to thrive. It can offer a navigable environment, or it can create a series of impossible gauntlets that wear us down daily. The messages encoded in architecture and systems can foster a sense of mastery or helplessness.” 7 likes
“listen to the parts of ourselves that are more inclined toward curiosity, trust, and cooperation.” 4 likes
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