BreakThru News, ep. 29: How to Build a Happy City


By Charlotte Thun-Hohenstein

2007 was a big year for humanity. For the first time in history, the number of people living in cities outnumbered populations in the countryside, and the trend is only set to continue. On one level this is very promising: as the global population continues to grow, densely packed cities can offer the most efficient way to accommodate the extra people. But different cities offer very different qualities of life, and the connection between our ‘built environment’ and our sense of wellbeing becomes essential.

We have come a long way from the epidemics of 19th century urban life: gone are the days when nearly two thirds of deaths were caused by infectious disease. We owe our resistance to these diseases not only to modern medicine but also to revolutions in urban design (housing acts, public transportation, aqueducts, etc.). While the idea of a cholera outbreak or yellow fever epidemic may seem ludicrous today, we are now burdened with a different kind of scourge: that of obesity and its related diseases. In 2007, 74 percent of adults were overweight or obese, and the problem is only getting worse. Once again, urban design concepts are paving the way towards a long-term solution.

This week’s guests on BreakThru News are David Burney, Chairman of the Board for the Center for Active Design, and Jeff Risom, a partner at Gehl Architects. Both companies are working to put the human experience back at the center of architecture and city planning. The Center for Active Design was founded to help implement the ‘Active Design Guidelines’ established in 2010 (and now being used for every public project in New York City). Gehl Architects was started in 2000 on the back of many decades of research by architect Jan Gehl into how people interact with their surroundings. The ideas behind both organizations are catching on with developers and policy makers alike, and it’s not just about planting more trees.

Video Credits
Host, Writer – Charlotte Thun-Hohenstein
Video Editor – Andy Morell
Script Supervisor – Matthew DeMello

with guests – David Burney, Jeff Risom