Can You Build Happiness?

Technologies in smart cities aim to improve quality of life

12 June 2014




With more of the world’s population moving into cities, according to the United Nations, urban planners are looking not only at improving municipal infrastructures but also at how to make residents, as the planners see it, happier. One idea involves placing interactive maps around a neighborhood to help pedestrians and cyclists decide which route to take based on scenery or lack of noise. Another is to sync mobile phones with parking meters and public transportation to help make paying more convenient.

But some believe more will have to be done than simply applying new technology. In a letter that went viral—“What Starbucks Gets That Architects Don’t,” originally published on—Christine Outram explains that she quit her job as an architect because her former colleagues, she believes, focus too much on what they want people to do, not how people feel.

Outram founded the City Innovations Group, a self-described global network of experts who help to build smart cities. In one example she cites, Starbucks introduced round tables in its cafes after surveying customers—not because the tables looked better but because they made people feel better about sitting alone. Outram encourages city planners to talk to people and tap into the power of the Internet to learn what might make residents happy in their communities. It could simply be more bike lanes and parks, rather than new technology.

Is it possible to build a city around the idea of happiness, and are smart technologies one way to achieve that?

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