Resilient Cities - Bonn 2010 - Banner

Happiness: Well-being as wealth

Despite how green the economy, how resilient the community and how efficient the urban infrastructure may be, the ultimate question is: are people happy?

Prosperity has traditionally been tied to or measured by the gross domestic product (GDP), or material wealth. Yet recent research has found holes in the belief that material wealth alone makes people happy, even allowing for GDP’s impact on living standards, policy making and development.

New thinking suggests that local governments should work to ensure happiness and well-being of their citizens by promoting health, education, culture, good governance, ecology, community vitality and living standards.

Case in point: Costa Rica – a country ranking 54th on the 2009 Human Development Index yet ranking 1st on the Happy Planet Index.

Municipal leaders play a direct role in human happiness because they deliver the services (water, electricity, transportation, public services) and set the framework conditions (taxes, building codes, policies, plans) of a person's everyday life.

Strategies include preparing local workshops on municipal planning and other issues, fostering participation in decision-making that directly effect people's communities and addressing variables that stem social exclusion: Poverty, gender, disability, linguistic isolation, racism and ageism, among others.

Local governments have the capacity to make people happier. Enabling and encouraging public participation is a key issue because citizens are then empowered to mold and take responsibility for their own environments.