Last month, National Geographic bestselling author Dan Buettner and social scientists at Gallup released the results of a survey that assessed and identified where our American friends were living their best lives, using 15 metrics that included healthy eating, civic engagement, financial security, vacation time and even dental checkups to come up with a list of the 25 happiest cities in the U.S.
The study drew on almost a quarter-million interviews in 190 metropolitan areas in 2014 and 2015. I wondered if there was anything to be learned from our happiest neighbours.
Number one on the list was Boulder, Colorado, whose residents said they felt “active and productive every day.” I have often wondered how much of an impact our nasty winter weather has on everything from cycling to work to making use of pedestrian-friendly zones, and if Boulder is any indication, the answer is that it shouldn’t.
In spite of a blustery climate of its own (including snow), Boulder residents per capita walk to work more than any other American city. They enjoy low rates of smoking and obesity and get a lot of exercise. Buettner told National Geographic that there’s a high correlation between bikeability and happiness in a city and Boulderites love their bicycles.
There isn’t much we can do about another factor that makes Boulder such a happy city — they get nearly as much sunshine as in Phoenix, but without the wilting heat.
Another potentially happy-making factor is something we Torontonians are at least working on: creating pedestrian-friendly spaces. Boulder’s brick-paved Pearl Street Mall features more than a thousand businesses, and with 85% locally owned and operated, there may be a good argument there for the effects of supporting your neighbours too.
Boulder is an educated city as well, a major government research hub with more PhDs per capita than any other city, according to the website Movoto. I suppose it may be coincidental, but I wouldn’t doubt that the abundance of parks, trails and even outdoor cafés that are dog-friendly is a contributing factor too.
Perhaps Colorado’s being one of the first states to legalize marijuana doesn’t hurt either, but we’ll find out about that one for ourselves soon enough.
King Street Pilot underway
Speaking of improving pedestrian and public space – Toronto’s King Street Pilot just kicked off and we’ve already had a serious collision, as a driver near Duncan and Richmond said she was trying to avoid King when she hit a pedestrian. But, that’s not what we should be focusing on. The King Street Pilot isn’t an excuse for collisions.
Between Jarvis and Bathurst, traffic flow on the clogged east-west artery has been redesigned to force drivers to turn right each block, eliminate street parking, and clear the way for streetcars and cyclists to get around unimpeded.
I drive in the city daily, traffic congestion is usually on my mind. While I agree that Toronto is too car-centric, I’m not quite fully convinced that a conversion of King Street is the place to begin to address it, though there has been praise of the pilot across Twitter.
In 2016, StatsCan released a household survey that found that in 2011, less than a quarter of commuters in Toronto used public transit to get to work; of the overall total commuters, nearly half rode the bus. Perhaps better, transit-oriented infrastructure will convince more people to leave the car behind.
What do you think? Have you tried transit on the newly redesigned King Street?