City Policy- Measuring Happiness and Well Being

I recently stumbled upon the website Next City, which is an awesome site for anyone that loves cities and what’s happening with them around the world- obviously a regional or urban planner’s dream site!! Seriously, they have tons of articles and links to studies and projects that have already happened, are current, or will be underway in the future. It’s a gold mine.

One article I read asked, How Can a City Measure Its Happiness? A few cities (mostly in California) are beginning to develop a well-being index that is based off of surveying citizens and their thoughts on where they live and how happy they are. Originally beginning in Somerville, MA a few years back, the methodology began with paper surveys that resulted in insufficient data conclusions. Eventually they decided to just use a sample of the population and offer incentives for those that completed the survey, as well as follow-up messages- this led to some much more significant data. Somerville was able to make some adjustments through projects around the city, especially focusing on areas that were mentioned by residents as places that  could increase their happiness and well-being if better managed/cared for. Later this year, Santa Monica, CA plans to conduct a web survey, as well as other supplementary surveys to reach the population that may not be on the web.

This ‘well-being’ concept is not new in my opinion, but has just been given a more accurate name that relates to people and not just one aspect of people’s lives. For instance, the environment is one aspect that affects people’s overall well-being, which beforehand could be categorized as sustainability, environmental health, environmental psychology, etc. Physical and mental health of humans was another aspect that many public health and social workers analyzed to see just how it affects people overall- not their health overall, but their entity/happiness/well-being. I believe this bird’s eye view has the potential to paint a more detailed picture if eventually data analysts and planners work together for simpler and streamlined coding of material they receive. There’s a lot of information out there that will need to be accounted for, and any ways to make the process more efficient without sacrificing data quality of the comments should be deemed a priority. With valuable data can come possible policy solutions and implementation of projects that are not just for the people, but by the people. Citizens know their communities best, and I believe it is the responsibility of every planner, policy worker, and city official  to make sure that citizens are happy and well.

What are your thoughts? Do you think this well-being index could work? Do you think it could be a valuable tool? Any suggestions on how to improve upon it?