Developing Urban Landscapes with Happiness

August 02, 2017

undefinedundefinedWe’ve all heard some form of the adage “happiness is the ultimate cure”. According to Peter Scott, director landscape architecture, Khatib & Alami, this especially rings true with urban developments. “When developing urban landscapes with happiness as a core value and principle, it can have far reaching effects on the health of future generations,” Scott said in a recent interview. “Without health, no amount of wealth matters.”

You can count on the man from Down Under to always have some ace tips up his sleeve. Scott will be shedding more light on this at an upcoming talk September 27, 2017 at the World Trade Centre as part of The Big 5 Outdoor Design & Build Show entitled: ‘How Smart and Sustainable Designs Can Lead to Happiness.’

Scott said UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum had advocated this very same issue as part of two governing KPIs on his agenda: Innovation and happiness.

Sheikh Mohammed was quoted as saying during the establishment of the first World Happiness Council, on 20 March, “The role of governments is to achieve happiness for their people, by enabling them to choose the tools and means and by providing an environment that accommodates the hopes, ambitions and dreams of the people, which supports them in their search for what makes them happy.” 

Scott is interested in the traditional values that make people happy. “Modern urban planning should be adapting traditional values, and sustainable in terms of making people happy for the long-term,” he said. “The simplest thing, for instance, is being able to walk to school, safely and for short distances and this doesn’t exist here.”

The fact is children in the UAE don’t walk to school, they have to be driven there. UAE’s roads are symptomatic of that fact, becoming congested with school buses during school time and relatively traffic free during holidays.

“From an urban perspective, this is unsustainable. When designing, we should be looking at traditional values like walking to school or bringing the family for a walk, to a shop, supermarket, or the mosque, rather than focusing on efficiency or merely developing vacant land,” Scott explained.

Scott believes the fundamental part of what makes us happy is our health. Giving the example of diabetes in the UAE, he said kids walking to school creates a rhythm lasting a lifetime whereby walking becomes a natural choice instead of stressful driving, and ultimately lessening the impact of the disease, either way you look at it.

“We are centralizing schools in the UAE, creating school cities, and when added with the perceived bias that private schools provide better education, people will naturally opt to drive their kids to school even if there were one or more nearby.”  

Peter practices what he preaches. He walks his ½ kilometer to work every day, even at 45 degree C in Dubai where he lives. “It’s no sweat,” he quipped, “I grew up in Australia in the Outback and we often have similar hot weather without the benefit of shade and used to walk up to 10 miles to school.”

“Weather is no issue. It’s just part of being a kid.”

Under government plans, one in four journeys in Dubai will be driverless by 2030, and as many as 12% of the population will make use of driverless cars, metros, trams and aircraft, helping to reduce parking by 50% and ultimately the need to own a car or at least more than one.

“We need to plan for this eventuality and we can make it happen by incorporating traditional values in every urban development from now on,” suggested Scott.

“Most urban designs create standalone developments with developers failing to attempt linking them to other communities, thus weakening any continuity they might have between them.” 

Scott also pointed to the fact that people nowadays place too much emphasis on technology as a major component of happiness. “Though it is great at making our lives easier and a factor in a happier future, it’s nonetheless subject to change every few months; it’s something you allow for but know it’s going to transmute over and over again.”

“The things that don’t change is how you conveniently live near a bike lane, a pedestrian path, school, shop and park.”

Scott will use benchmark projects in the UAE and elsewhere where smart and sustainable designs have led to happiness.  

“Dubai Marina is a good example of how this could work, but heavy traffic congestion is the project’s main drawback,” Scott hinted.

“If it takes a person 1 hour to cross 100 yards, how is that sustainable?” He said the solutions lie in planning properly entire cities at one go and not just one block at a time,” he said adding: “Seamless, connected development is what’s it’s all about.”

Lastly, Scott will delve into the issue of creating self-efficient communities.

“Around 85% of UAE’s food is imported. Some of it is old food, picked before it’s ripe, or artificially ripened or frozen, and some is genetically modified,” he said. “In upcoming urban developments, we need to create not just energy but also food security and today it’s easy to create small blocks of vertical farming in communities.”

Scott will also discuss the importance of energy, coupled with water and waste recycling as part of self-sufficiency.

“Can’t get any better than available and cheap solar, and in addition, we have the means to create near zero waste from recycling, and from sewage outflows we can harvest water for irrigation and create organic fertilisers,” Scott pointed out.

“No reason not to use all these solutions at hand and create these bi-products. Sustainability makes for happier communities.”


Peter Scott’s ‘Top 5 happiness indicators in thriving communities’

1.   Health: Communities need to foster an environment for indoor/outdoor sports and exercise activities towards a better health for all age groups.

2.   Affordability: Tenants/owners should not be concerned about high costs of living, and be given choices that fit their budgets.

3.   Transportation/Access: Dwellers appreciate having multiple access to transportation, be it metro, bus, tram, taxi, or other means.

4.   Neighborliness: Residents in a community need a support system, where neighbors are friendly, greet and visit each other.

5.   Security: Surprisingly in the 5th spot, but nonetheless, families and professionals in a community setting need to feel secure.

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