Happy cities -- stitching the disconnections?
Architect Irena Bauman's MADE talk next Thursday (6:30pm, Birmingham Conservatoire) has an intriguing title Happy Cities: Stitiching the Disconnections. But then this remarkable Leeds-based woman is the author of How to be a Happy Architect.
A city, any city and its people, its plants and animals, its built infrastructure is part of the physical world. But it's also an idea, an abstraction.
Its economy, its industry, its houses-as-homes, the happiness (or grouchiness!) of its people are all abstractions, only few elements of which we can measure. It's the stuff of Roger Levett's guerilla spud-growing-as-economic-regeneration, a subject upon which I've written in this blog way back last October.
The unquantifiable idea of Birmingham differs among, say, an allotment holder digging a patch at the Uplands, a medic at the QE, an ex-Rover worker in Longbridge, a youngster thrown out of school and wandering the streets, an artist performing at the Drum, someone processing payments at Severn Trent, the infant in the pushchair on the bus . . .
In Today's Observer Magazine, Alexander McCall Smith, Edinburgh author, expert in criminal and medical law, co-founder of the Really Terrible Orchestra, giver of the 2007 Birmingham University Baggs Memorial Happiness Lecture, spent his first formative year of employment at Queens in Belfast in the early 1970s, when the Troubles were, well, more than troubles. He writes:
I have gone back [to Belfast] several times, most recently to be given an honorary degree by Queens. At that ceremony I looked out over from the platform, over the faces of the graduating students. They looked very like my students of all those years ago. But there was something quite different about the atmosphere. There was no unhappiness. There was no distrust. It was an occasion of smiles and harmony; these young people did not belong to rival groups -- they were one. I wanted to cry, but obviously could not. Nobody would have known why. Some tears are destined to be private.
A city is as much the sum total of its narrativium as it is the view from Google Earth and the built-ness of the place. It binds the physical world with our imagination.
Does the physicality of a city play a part in its Narrativium, its happiness? Irena Bauman's take on this next Thursday will be, at the least, interesting.