Designing Quality of Life

Can the built environment influence individual happiness? 


Research seems to say yes. In one study, more than 80% of city residents in Brisbane, Australia, said they felt happier in built environments full of natural light, compared to 0% who were happy with artificial light.[1]In another study, researchers found that residents who felt safe walking at night in their city were also more likely to be happy.[2]

Pioneering urban planners are working alongside policy-makers from Bogota to Bangalore to convert abandoned lots into public parks; make it easier and safer for people to walk or cycle; and design for cohesive communities.

As more people have realized that urbanists wield power to improve our daily lives, surveys about quality of life in cities have become a subject of intense discussion. From upmarket lifestyle magazines to mainstream daily newspapers, everywhere one looks there are rankings of which city has the best quality of life. 

Most quality of life metrics include a city’s walkability, the prevalence of local shops, and good city governance. Naturally, western cities (and especially those in Nordic countries and Switzerland) rank high in these regards. After all, they have perfected the art of quality living for decades and have the resources to provide for their residents. As technology rapidly transforms our lives, emerging cities such as Bangkok, Dubai, and even large cities like Mumbai have a unique opportunity to leapfrog in an important quality of life metric: information detox. 

If city leaders can marry technology and mindfulness through campaigns to get people to unplug, enjoy their community, and look up from the smartphone screen then they can succeed in one of humanity’s most important quality of life metrics. It might sound odd to think of the city as a vehicle for tech detox but smart human-centric urban planning can do wonders for our collective ability to unplug and experience life through living. 

This is precisely where emerging market cities can weave safeguards against information overload into their DNA. If we can pay for parking tickets and handle other municipal services via smartphones in Dubai, for example, then the municipality should also be able to encourage us to unplug through gentle reminders and city-wide initiatives. Effective mitigation of information overload will be one of the most important quality of life metrics in the next 50 years as more and more people live in cities and regularly use smartphones.[3]As described earlier, too much screen time (and the subsequent information overload) can inhibit desire 
to exercise and lead a healthy life.

[1] Pringle, Sofie & Guaralda, Mirko. (2018). Images of Urban Happiness: A Pilot Study in the Self-representation of Happiness in Urban Spaces. The International Journal of the Image. 8. 97-122. 10.18848/2154-8560/CGP/v08i04/97-122.

[2] Florida, Richard. “What Makes Us the Happiest About the Places We Live - CityLab.” 19/9/2014. 

[3] Rajdev, Naveen. “Smart Cities are great. Human-centric cities are (again) the future.” Quartz, 27/9/2017,