Posted May 17th 2011 at 12:56 pm by
in The Enabling City, Thesis Chronicles

Socializing for Social Good: Cities That Seek Well-being for Their Residents

While Vancouver and Philadelphia are gunning to be greenest cities in their respective lands, other cities are after a different, albeit equally trendy ‘it’ factor: The Happy City.

Today, a more holistic understanding of well-being takes into account not just employment opportunities and economic growth, but also the health of the physical environment and the quality of our daily lives, with a particular emphasis on our social connections and sense of belonging.

The goal of decision-makers, therefore, should not be to ‘make people happy’, but to create the conditions that enable citizens and communities to thrive and to be empowered. What kinds of programs could contribute to such conditions? Here are some examples of how place-based learning and socializing are changing our ideas of engagement:

Socializing for Social Good: Cities That Seek Well-being for their ResidentsHuman Library: The Human Library is designed to promote dialogue, reduce prejudices, and encourage understanding.  It’s a mobile space that gives visitors the opportunity to speak informally with “people on loan,” a group widely varied in age, sex, and cultural background. The model enables groups to break stereotypes by challenging the most common prejudices in a positive and humorous manner. It is a concrete, easily transferable, and affordable way of promoting tolerance and understanding that since its inception in Copenhagen, Denmark has spread to over 27 countries. (Photo credit: The Human Library)

Laundromat Café: The Laundromat Café is part of what are called “fusion cafes,” spaces that provide a secondary service (in this case, laundry) to turn typically mundane tasks into more social activities. In Copenhagen and Reykjavik, individuals in the community maximize the use of their time and make connections with others instead of being isolated while waiting for the washer to finish the spin cycle. Young artists exhibit their artwork in the space, café staff cook homemade meals, patrons can borrow from over 4000 books for free, and chess, backgammon, and free WiFi are offered to encourage socialization and community-building.

Socializing for Social Good: Cities That Seek Well-being for their Residents
Would you guess that these books are part of a laundromat’s library? Photo by Chiara Camponeschi.

School of Everything: School of Everything is a web platform that helps users learn new skills by facilitating a connection between students and teachers. A database of teachers and lessons allows users to find relevant support anywhere in the world, either in the form of paid lessons or by the form of a free knowledge exchange that happens locally directly between interested parties.

Public Design Festival: This yearly festival is organized by esterni, a Milan-based group that develops interventions and communication projects in urban public spaces. After touring the world looking for ideas and projects to present this April in Milan, esterni put together an impressive line-up featuring international interventions, installations, and innovative services that transform the way we experience and live the city.
 This year the focus of the event revolved around the question of how to design change and improve the relationship between people and the spaces surround them. “Think public” was their answer.

New York Public Library – Find The Future Game: Do you normally think of public libraries as dusty and boring places? Think again. The New York Public Library has recently introduced a city-wide, smartphone-based scavenger hunt that will officially kick off May 20 and will continue through 2011. The aim of the game is to explore “a collection of 100 ways to make history and change the future, inspired by 100 of the most intriguing works of the past.” Participants will also write a book collaborating with people from around the world. To enter for a spot, respond to the question found on the games’ website:  “In the year 2021, I will become the first person to _______________.”

Socializing for Social Good: Cities That Seek Well-being for their ResidentsIn the face of climate change, rapid urbanization and global recession it is no coincidence that happiness and well-being are gaining momentum once again. The Action for Happiness campaign, Unconsumption platform and movements like the Coalition of the Willing all favour a connection to place and local networks that have a contagious effect on people, stimulating confidence and creating networks of urban solidarity that feed right into the idea of well-being.

What is your favourite way of learning new things? Where do you go to socialize? How do you think cities can better promote and enable well-being?

Post by Chiara Camponeschi. Chiara works at the intersection of interdisciplinary research, social innovation and urban sustainability. Her latest project, The Enabling City, is based on graduate research conducted at York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies in Toronto, Canada. To learn more about the project, visit the website or  follow The Enabling City on Twitter.

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3 Responses to “Socializing for Social Good: Cities That Seek Well-being for Their Residents”

  1. Alexa Mills says:

    I just realized that MIT actually has a good example! This Mood-o-Meter thing reads your face as you walk down the hall, and registers you as a yellow frown face or a green smile face, and then a bar on the side of the screen registers how frowny or smiley you are. Here is a post about it: http://www.innovationnewsdaily.com/mit-mood-meter-records-facial-expressions-1919/

    After seeing myself with a frown face for like the 5th time, I started to smile when passing the mood-o-meter just so I could get a green face, and I’ve found that I actually feel better after smiling, even if I’m just doing it for the mood-o-meter. Here is a picture of my frown face (left) and happy face (right): http://twitpic.com/4yxkwf

    It’s not as significant of an intervention as these great examples you have (I love the laundromat idea), but it’s a small intervention that might have an impact.

  2. Aditi Mehta says:

    Here is another Laundromat Project in NYC that is really inspiring:
    http://laundromatproject.org/

    I like their motto: “Wash clothes, make art, build community.”

    Also, a portable reading room designed to operate at the street level is something that is coming to Boston soon:
    http://www.bostonstreetlab.org/projects/uni/

  3. Gabriel Agtarap says:

    Thanks a bunch! Lots of useful info.