Happy City exists because the world needs a new story – a story that redefines what it means to prosper.
The original 5 year plan outlined a sophisticated model enabling bottom-up demand for better lives to meet top-down concerns of national strategists. It was an unavoidably ambitious project from the outset because each element of the model (campaigning, training, and better measures of prosperity) supports the others.
Guided by international experience of Participatory Development, the project was designed with to involve as many people as possible. “Cities are shaped by the people who live there – the way they think and act. So to serve up happiness at a city scale, we need to tap into the wisdom that’s already there. Our approach is to ask, to encourage, to share, to support and to offer a helping hand. We work in partnership wherever possible so people can build on each other’s success and learn to flourish together” web copy 2010.
So with Tipping Points in mind, they launched a ‘public inquiry into what works’ as an alternative to the conventional problems focused approach. Described by one local politician as ‘a radically simple plan to grow happiness one city at a time’, Mike and Liz were joined by large numbers of volunteers and supporters to help people LIVE MORE, SHARE MORE, and ENJOY LIFE, FOR LESS’.
Projects, campaigns, workshops and events were run in communities across Bristol and beyond between 2010 and 2015. 10s of 1000s of people were engaged in thinking and acting on their own and their community’s wellbeing. Art, music, film, performance were used to provoke conversation and connection. Walks, festivals, media and mindfulness were all channels for exploring what matters. Training was delivered in schools, prisons, businesses, community centres and public buildings.
At the time, there was no way of showing how a city changes in response to this kind of action. There were pockets of interest in better measures of wellbeing, but all were either theoretical and academic or too large scale to be useful to individuals, groups or local policy-makers.
Happy City’s vision of a measure to rival existing GDP based definitions of value and progress was ground-breaking. We have since developed a suite of tools to help measure both the drivers of wellbeing (health, economy, environment, education, culture, etc.), the reality of people’s daily lives (relationships, belonging, purpose, vitality, etc) and the impact and benefits of each on the other.
And the academic paper on the methodology and validation work is available here.