Archive | August, 2017

5 Ways to make your town (and the people who live there) happier

4 Aug

Some people could talk for hours on end about their love for where they live and others in the same environment might feel their town should be listed on a Rough guide no travel zone.

How we feel about where we live can be affected by many different factors, Cultural legacy, light aspect of the town, social diversity, inclusion, municipal involvement and funding, green area to building ratio, outdoor lifestyle opportunities, community feel and social engagement all can positively or negatively affect a communities translation of what it is..

I thought today we would look at some interesting initiatives that transformed they way people felt about where they lived. Let’s take a look

Sometimes ideas  sound so different to the norms that we think they could never work. Here is one that did work.

1. Create traffic with no rules

Visualize your town centre as it is now, imagine it with no road markings or street barriers, in fact the street and the footpath are all on the same level( No kerb) no speed signage and at junctions no traffic lights. What would you imagine would happen? Rising pedestrian, bicycle and vehicle collisions? Chaos at junctions spaces where traffic lights and barriers once where? The public avoiding visiting the town centre due to speeding cars on unmarked streets?The answer is quite different to what you expected.

Back as far as the 1970’s a Dutch traffic engineer named Hans Monderman thought the opposite. Hans had come up with the concept of the Naked street.

The concept was simple, by creating a greater sense of uncertainty and making it unclear who has the right of way on a street, drivers begin to reduce their speed and everyone who uses the street increases their level of risk compensation. In other words by creating a perceived greater risk, people adjust their behaviour. People now need to react to others in the environment around them rather than relying on pedestrian crossings and traffic lights to manage their decisions. Hans realised that in riskier environments, pedestrians and drivers respond by behaving in a safer manner. Removal of speed bumps, safety barriers and traffic lights creates a street environment that fosters eye contact and human interaction. Creating  an almost mindful experience of interacting with other users of a street.

Hans created this experience in the town of Drachten in the Netherlands in 2004 and soon discovered that

  • Congestion had decreased
  • Traffic accidents were reduced by 50%
  • Traffic increased by 33%
  • There was a remarkable increase in the use of informal hand signals between users of the intersection, with bicyclists in particular indicating direction more often than usual, and greater use of indicators (turn signals) by drivers.
  • A substantial reduction in delays to public transport had been achieved.
  • Public perceptions of spatial quality and personal security had improved.

Here is an amazing example of how it works on a street intersection in Drachten.

Hans helped design spaces that provided us with greater human interaction and greater awareness of those around us. Sadly Hans Passed away in 2008 but his revolutionary thinking changed the way we can think about our urban interactions.


2. Shut the city down…for a bit

Bogotá in Columbia is the 4th highest capital city in the world at 2625m above sea level with a population of almost 8 million people.

If you where to visit Bogotá this, or any weekend you would wake up to find that from 7am on Sunday morning until 2pm, 120 km’s of city streets are closed to all vehicular traffic other than bicycles, skateboards, rollerblading and people. The streets of Bogotá on this or any other weekend will be filled with between 1-2million cyclists, joggers, rollerbladers, dancers and yoga enthusiasts.

Mobile bicycle repair mechanics set up every few hundred metres, repairing punctures and chains alongside roadside food vendors. Travel into the Parque Nacional in the Puente Narada district and you will see evidence of Recrovia with locals participating in free Yoga and aerobic dance classes.

Cyclovia (Meaning Cycleway in Spanish) was first held in December 1974 by local Cycling enthusiasts . In 1976 it was championed by Bogota’s Mayor Luis Prieto Ocampo. It was challenged in 2007 by Colombian congressman, José Fernando Castro Caycedo. Jose argued that it was causing traffic disruption and needed to be curtailed. Ironically he suffered a heart attack while arguing his point in the Senate live on air and died the following day.

For every Peso invested in Cyclovia in Bogotá there is a net saving of 3 peso’s on healthcare costs. Providing a net saving of 38 Billion pesos per year.


Bogotá has 350km of cycle paths more than any other American city. It is law in Bogotá  that all car parks must include spaces for bikes. There is a lot of congestion and traffic in a city with a population of 7.8 million people. Listen to this for an initiative: if your car has an odd number as the last digit on the registration plate you can not travel in the city between the hours of 6.00-8.30am and 3.00-7.30pm on an odd-numbered day of the month. For example Reg 472BG69 can not drive in Rush hour on the 15th of the month or any other subsequent odd numbered days. That’s new thinking.

Bogatano’s  even have day in February where all cars are eliminated from the 800km of city streets, it’s called “Dias Sin Carro”  Another among the many initiatives that have transformed the fourth highest capital city in the world to possibly the healthiest city in South America.

3. Transform the ordinary and people will come

Toms Kokins and Evelina Ozola are two Latvian Architects who decided to prove that it is possible to make space for social interaction in urban spaces alongside bicycle lanes and street traffic.

They painted two opposing 14 metre sides of the street in Riga and increased the pathway space on a street that was seen as merely a functional route to somewhere else. Would people react differently when for a couple of days they transformed the way people responded to a once non-descript location. A street where people passed by everyday suddenly became a place for people to connect and meet.

Have a look below and see for yourself how we simply can reclaim and reframe the streets where we live and socialize.


4. Turn your city into a playground

Dan Acher is a Swiss creative artist who looks at towns and cities and sees how he can garner greater human connections and transform city spaces with interactive projects.

One of Dan’s projects is called “Touch and dance” . A standalone stage is placed in town centre. You simply take out your MP3 player or phone and plug it into a connecting lead at the stage. But no music plays at all until …… and here is why the project works on an interactive level.. there are two points on either side of the stage that require to be both touched simultaneously by a human chain. You need about 7-10 people to complete that chain. Only then will the music on the Mp3 player play and people can dance. So people who want to play music and dance will need the co-operation of others for it to happen. Maybe requiring you to request the help from passing strangers. It encourages connections and human interaction. Who doesn’t like music and dancing.


Dan has also scattered pianos around the streets of Geneva  in a project called “Jouez, je suis à vous” “Play me, I’m yours” where people can randomly play music and songs to intimate gatherings of strangers who gather to listen to or join in and singalong. At first Dan thought all the pianos would end up in Lake Geneva, but he soon discovered that people took pride in the pianos even painting them. On days with rain Dan and his Team at Happycitylabs had designed covers for the pianos. Only to discover  when they ran out to put them on that they locals had created covers themselves in a great act of ownership and respect for the pianos.

Dan thought all the pianos would end up in Lake Geneva, but he soon discovered that people took pride in the pianos even painting them


Dan has also created many other outdoor urban installations including Borealis which uses green and blue lazers that interact with the cloud formations to provide the experience of the Aurora Borealis anywhere. It is beautiful and no cloud formation is ever the same.

The Happycitylabs have many more projects in the pipeline ready to transform the way people view where they live.

5. Set your town on Fire-Find a reason to party

Finding a reason to celebrate should not be a hard thing to do. Very few people complain and most everyone enjoys them. Wether it’s the  Kattenstoet or Cat parade in Ypres in Belgium that celebrates….cats or La Tomatina in Spain which celebrates the tomato crop or Mardi Gras in New Orleans. It’s all a form of good natured escapism.

Las Fallas in Valencia,Spain is the Festival of torches. I have included this because I have never had so much fun in a city during a festival. Technically its not an initiative like our previous projects, But I think fiestas are a great way for communities to come together and it’s hard to beat the Spanish at this game.


las fallas 4

The Festival is for 5 days and 5 nights in March each year beginning on the 15th celebrating St Joseph and concluding on the 19th.

The city is split into different neighbourhoods and each neighbourhood has a leader who organises fund-raising dinners and events throughout the year. Coming up to the festivals each neighbourhood picks a satirical theme( usually political) and a child friendly theme they then construct the most colourful papier-mache models collectively called Falla. The Falla that are designed are very colourful almost Disneyesque. They fill them with firecrackers and assemble them within the various city barrios.People walk around for days eating street food and drinking beer while admiring the creations, The Falla must be created and in place by the evening of March the 15th to avoid disqualification.

Every morning at 8am there is a wake up call from brass bands and the festivities begin. At 2pm each day the most intense explosion of firecrackers called La Mascleta takes place in the city centre surrounded by thousands of people.Fireworks also play a big part in the celebrations. Kids walk along the streets setting off firecrackers. Its not a festival for those easily frightened.

On the final day the 19th of March each year at 7pm “Cavalcad del Foc” (The fire parade) takes place through the city and then at 10pm “La Crema” begins. All the Falla that have been constructed throughout the city are set alight. First the children’s Falla and then at Midnight the Main Falla are lit and explode in a haze of firecrackers and fireworks like a massive bonfire. The city literally is on fire and the noise is incredible. Firebrigades hose down buildings and walls to avoid fire and structural melting. The city feels so alive. You have to experience it to believe it. It is like no one sleeps for 5 days and Valencia completely comes alive.

The city feels so alive. You have to experience it to believe it.

You are not trapped by your city you are simply trapped by the way you think it traps you. Change your thinking and you open the possibilities of transforming where you live and transforming how it makes you feel.


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