How do we boost our city’s bliss?

We Canberrans are a happy bunch, by and large, and for good reason.

Report after report confirms what we know: Canberra is a great place to live.

Just last month, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released figures finding that Canberrans are among the nation’s happiest, healthiest and most cultured.

When asked to assess their overall life satisfaction on a scale of 0 to 10, Canberrans picked an average of 7.7 – up slightly on the national average of 7.6. The ABS also found that Canberrans were more likely to enjoy cultural pursuits, read and engage in sport.

This follows on from other studies, such as the OECD’s 2014 Better Life Index, which ranked Canberra the most liveable place of 362 regions in 34 countries.  We came out top on a range of measures, including access to broadband, education, income, jobs, environment, health, safety, housing and civic engagement.    

We can thank our blue skies and wide open spaces, our high incomes and educational opportunities in some part for being on cloud nine.  But we can also thank our built environment – because it turns out how we build our cities has a huge impact on our feelings of happiness. 

Understanding the pursuit of happiness in ten major cities, for instance, surveyed residents of New York, London, Paris, Stockholm, Toronto, Milan, Berlin, Seoul, Beijing and Tokyo to find out what makes them happy. 

In general, respondents were happiest when their cities had easy access to culture and leisure activities, like libraries, galleries, shops and sporting facilities. This factor alone gives Canberra a big tick. 

Affordability also influenced happiness, with cities that serve as good places to raise children recording cheerier residents. Places that foster social connections were also found to boost bliss.  Tick, and tick again.

Good public transport was found to be a happiness factor – and that’s something we must work on in our city, though we’ll always need cars and car parking.

Interestingly, while basic amenities such as clean streets, running water and safety are valued, researchers found that people didn’t rank these as highly as living in an aesthetically beautiful city.

And perhaps that the key.  How often do we stop to marvel at the beauty of our city?  Canberra’s glory is found not only in the backdrop of the Brindabellas and the sparkle of Lake Burley Griffin on a clear day, but in the spectacular buildings that dot the landscape. 

Consider the art deco delights of Old Parliament House and the Hyatt, the classical colonnades of the National Library, the clean lines of the Carillion or the eye-catching façade of the Nishi Building? 

So, how do we push our city’s happiness off the scale?  A great built environment, and the revitalisation of Civic, providing places and spaces for the community might be a good start.

Catherine Carter is ACT Executive Director of the Property Council of Australia