the happy design toolkit

The Happy Design Toolkit is a book on how good architecture can help mental health in the community. Simple factors like lighting, comfort and access to nature and social interaction, can alll impact how we feel. The book features 100 hand-drawn illustrations (including roof gardens). And shows how ‘bumping into each other’ architecture can cure social isolation.

For green spaces, avoid toxic plants near pets (also don’t plant in railings, where nocturnal wildlife could get trapped). Also don’t plant in railings, where nocturnal wildlife could get trapped. Avoid facing indoor foliage to gardens, to help stop birds flying into windows

Precision Community Health is a wonderful book that every town council and GP could read. When Bechara Choucair was a young doctor, he learned that treating a patient for hypothermia did little good, if she has to spend the next night in the freezing cold. As health commissioner of Chicago, he was determined to help the city’s most vulnerable populations. His approach led to lower rates of smoking, teen pregnancy and breast cancer. Health is about decent housing, jobs, parks, food and social support.

Happy City unlocks the secrets of living well in cities, and it’s not to do with how much you earn or what the climate is. He travels from Atlanta to Bogotá to Vancouver) to explore innovations that are transforming people’s lives. Meet the Colombian mayor who turned the world’s most dangerous roads into an urban cycling haven, a Danish architect who created the world’s most walking-friendly city and New York transport commissioner who turned Times Square into a pedestrian paradise.

Urban Playground shows how town planners can move from car-dominated, noisy and polluted communities, – to create ones that are welcoming and walkable, that are safe for children to walk and play. The author leads a global campaign for more child-friendly streets, towns and cities, and builds the academic case for reconnecting children with nature.

we need more visionary town planners

reflections on Seaside

Town planning may seem like a boring job, but if done well, it’s a visionary way to transform where you live, using the same budget as now, just using more imagination and knowledge from New Urbanism architects. Andrés Duany has created beautiful towns in the US using his unique style of  town planning, and his ideas are now used worldwide to prevent urban sprawl:

Seaside (Florida) is what Americans call an ‘uppity town’ (too expensive for us to live there). But nevertheless, it has fabulous features. Not only is this beautiful town on a lovely coastline with a main street filled with indie boutiques, but the church is purposely built to accommodate all faiths. The nearby city of Celebration ‘hides away’ cars so they don’t blot the streetscape, and features an Art-Deco inspired post office.

Mt Laurel (Alabama) is a new town, but the trees removed to build it, were then replanted, so the nature was always protected. This kind of looks like the old England you bet you wished you lived in: all quiet tree-lined streets, plenty of parks and nature walks, and there’s even a dog park divided in two (one for boisterous dogs and another for sleepy old shy dogs, so they don’t get stressed out!) You can not just walk from your home to the main market with plenty of indie shops, but you can even walk to the fire station!

Basic rules of New Urbanism town planning are to build streets on a grid system (so everywhere is easy to walk to) and people naturally ‘bump into each other’. Pavements are widened and trees are planted, and areas built up to makeover stark empty boulevards (see before/after photos below). Buildings are no more than four-storeys high to foster community, and there is good free or cheap public transport.

digital before/after images of New Urbanism

Urban Advantage is a free ‘online book’ for town planners, by an American who earns his living producing digital before/after images of what towns could look like by widening pavements, planting trees etc. Take a look – it’s pretty addictive when you see what can be done!

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