In the lead up to the upcoming WDC International Design Conference on the ‘Future of Cities‘ taking place from 5 to 6 March 2018 at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, we reached out to Vancouver-based Charles Montgomery to understand why designers need to take the happiness of cities more seriously. Charles is the author of Happy City and founder of the consultancy of the same name. He creates participatory programs and conversations that explore the intersection between urban design, health and wellbeing.


The Conference will explore design strategies to help make our cities more liveable and sustainable. Why is happiness so important for us to consider when designing today’s cities? What is a happy city?
A city’s purpose, above all, should be to nurture the health and happiness of all people.

Design influences our wellbeing all the time, in ways most of us fail to see. Our cities change the way we move, the way we feel, and the way we treat other people. Urban design mediates the shape of our bodies and the length of our lives. Design determines who is included and who is excluded. Design influences the extent of our friendship networks. Design can draw us together or push us apart.

Architects and urban designers have, for too long, used intuition to guide their efforts to create happier cities. Intuition is not good enough. It’s time to use the evidence on the design-wellbeing connection to guide us.

Your website indicates that you have spent a lot of time in Mexico City. What do you think Mexico City has to offer to the world in terms of urban design and wellbeing that is truly unique?
Every time I return to Mexico City, I am awestruck by the formal and informal innovations that sprout everywhere.

Mexican designers face limitations–economic, political, technological, cultural and even religious–so they have to take creativity to the next level. The results can be wondrous.

I am thinking of the Laboratorio Para La Ciudad, that fantastic change lab operating from the roof of one of your government buildings. This team is amazing. They understand that design is as much a social question as an aesthetic or technical one. For example, we know that city managers can be extremely protective of data. They don’t want to share. But this data should be used in ways that make city systems and life better. So the Lab brought together the city’s data managers and dozens of hackers in a competition to see who can do the most useful things with Mexico City data. This social event produced dozens of potential new applications. (It should be no surprise that the founder of this Lab was an artist: Gabriela Gomez-Mont.)

I see this innovation happening at all levels of society in Mexico. I am thinking of the gentleman I saw in La Roma who turned his bicycle into a mobile knife sharpening shop. I am thinking of the women’s collective on the hillside past La Villa who built stairs and water systems in their neighbourhood while their men were at home watching television. Mexican genius is about seeing the possible through the constraints.

One more thing. Mexicans understand that design is not just a final product. They seem to know, better than anyone, how to enjoy the process. This social prowess helps them find new ways to solve wicked challenges.


Don’t miss the unrepeatable Live Broadcast via the WDC Mexico City 2018 Facebook of the Future of Cities Conference to hear more from Charles Montgomery and the line-up of 13 other guest speakers on 5-6 March 2018 as of 10:45am EST.

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