This blog tends to focus on the economic benefits of urban development. We should bike more, for example, because it saves money for both individuals and the community. We should support the arts, the same reasoning goes, because they draw investment and growth to a community. I like this kind of argument because it’s hard to argue with the data.
But all of that side steps the reality that many of these things — from music venues to more walkable neighborhoods — are simply pleasurable to experience. In a post on PlaceShakers and NewsMakers, Hazel Borys calls this idea “spiritual urbanism.”
Borys cites both Vancouver, Canada, and Bogota, Columbia, as cities investing in spiritual urbanism. Quoting Bogota mayor Enrique Penalosa, she points out that cities can make people happy, help them fulfill their potential, and not feel inferior.
Adding things like the arts, better public transportation, and more walkable neighborhoods has real quantifiable benefits. As Borys points out, Penalosa managed to decrease the murder rate in his city by 40 percent. Traffic congestion also decreased. Many of the posts on this blog similarly argue that everyone prospers when communities are designed for walking, biking, the arts, etc.
But the biggest benefit is often sometimes less quantifiable. Borys writes,
“A good city is like a good party – people stay much longer than really necessary because they are enjoying themselves,” per Jan Gehl, author of a City for People, and leader of Copenhagen’s transformation to a bikeable, walkable city. Gehl encourages urban design from the perspective of the five senses, taken at walking speed. This eye-level approach does much to address the needs — and the happiness — of the individual.
I think that’s a pretty good description of Provo right now: a good party. That’s evident in things like the Rooftop Concerts and the Dance Walk, as well as in actual physical growth like the Tabernacle Temple and the airport. And like a good party, people increasingly want to stick around in Provo, which is one of the best things that can happen to the city.
In a related and more recent post, Borys also argues that great places inspire passion. And as she points out, happiness, passion, and economics are all intertwined:
It’s the passion of great places that gets any of us going. Involved. Engaged. Contributing.
But it’s also that passion that drives economies, makes connections between people, and gives resilience to jobs and the marketplace.
In a comment on that same post, Steve Mouzon — the man behind the wonderful Original Green — adds that great cities are all about connectedness.
Provo has a long way to go and economics will be a major guide in getting there. But as the city experiences growth, it’s worth keeping in mind that a great city is often characterized as much by passion and happiness as by its wealth.