The Politics of Happiness

From Dennis Keim on comes this link to an opinion piece by Enrique Penalosa, mayor of Bogota. He talks about the necessity of pedestrian activity and public open spaces.

Today we see images of the beautiful Earth taken from a spaceship, and we think of it as our planet. But in fact, there are very few places on the planet to which the public has access. Most of the land is privatized, and public spaces are very, very scarce. The fact is, upper-income people have always had access to nature and recreation. They go to country houses, golf clubs, restaurants, hunting preserves. What do the poor, especially in the Third World, have as an alternative to television? All poor people have are public spaces, so this is not a luxury. They are the minimum a democratic society can provide to begin to compensate for the inequalities that exist in society.

and later

If we in the Third World measure our success or failure as a society in terms of income, we would have to classify ourselves as losers until the end of time. Given our limited resources, we have to invent other ways to measure success, and that could be in terms of happiness. It may be in how much time children spend with their grandparents, or the ways in which we are able to enjoy our friendships, or how many times people smile during the week. A city is successful not when itŽâ€™s rich but when its people are happy. Public space is one way to lead us to a society that is not only more equal but also much happier.

That last bit is a lesson the politicians and citizens of Atlanta should learn. This is a place focused on making money, looking like you have money with nice clothes and cars (even if you go bankrupt in the process), and what feels to me like a decreasing level of satisfaction and ambient joy. People are angrier, more impatient, more confrontational. We also have nowhere to walk, and not that much public space.