“Happy City” Author Charles Montgomery Visits UCSB


Melanie Martinez

Science and Technology Editor

On May 10, Charles Montgomery, the author of Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design, came to Campbell Hall to give a talk about his book, which has been chosen as the UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) Reads title for the 2023 year. In Happy City, Montgomery delves into the urban infrastructure of cities and how that is intertwined with recent studies on happiness. During his talk at UCSB, Montgomery spoke about his experiences and discussed the current infrastructure of Isla Vista (I.V.) and Santa Barbara.

Montgomery started off his talk by encouraging the audience to stand up and find someone they didn’t know and strike up a conversation as if they had been long-time friends. After a few seconds, Montgomery called to end the icebreaker and connected the idea of being able to live in a place where there is trust between neighbors. Being able to achieve this goal would mean living in more densely populated structures that have been created with the goal of interaction between residents. He went on to say that he even leaves his front door unlocked because of the bond between residents. 

Some events in his life sparked Montgomery to get together with other people to live in a place that built community and happiness. In his presentation, Montgomery went on to show his happiness apartment project and its layout. Some balconies face each other for quick conversations, and there are multiple shared spaces within the building that encourage interactions. Many of the features of the building allow for both privacy and connection to the other residents.

The manner in which cities are built is the main issue. Most cities are centered around the economy as opposed to the comfort and accommodation of their residents, thus creating an unlivable city. Many people in Los Angeles can attest to this issue, as public transportation is very limited and the traffic is horrible in the car-dependent city. In comparison, Santa Barbara has succeeded in making its city accessible to residents. A student at UCSB can take the bus to get groceries or explore downtown Santa Barbara without the restriction of needing a car. It allows the student to connect with the city they’re living in and build that connection. While there may be areas that need to be restructured, Montgomery’s main critique of Santa Barbara was removing the story limit for buildings, which had some mixed reactions from the audience.

Many features of Santa Barbara, such as State Street’s no-car policy, create a more open and connected environment for all the people who visit. These cities already being set in their ways does not mean they are exempted from experiencing change. Montgomery explained how his efforts and success from his own building led to its adoption in other countries like Mexico. Being able to reconstruct a city to benefit its residents is crucial for increasing the overall happiness and well-being of the community. 

The way a city is built can most definitely increase the happiness of its residents. Many students who have traveled to attend UCSB come from comparatively inaccessible hometowns which makes the accessibility of Santa Barbara seem impressive. Being able to walk, bus, or bike wherever you need to is very convenient, and it doesn’t allow for discrimination against any type of student despite their situation. Better infrastructure can connect the city and people together in order to achieve a happy city.