The Key to Happiness Might Be Living Within Walking Distance of a Coffee Shop

Housing affordability in North America is facing a crisis due to a shortage of homes, leading to opposition from urban planners and housing advocates. Advocates argue that more people living closer together is necessary for creating more affordable and inclusive neighborhoods. However, opponents of new development worry about increased traffic, overloaded schools, and shadow-casting apartment buildings, which they argue will alter the character of their neighborhoods and hurt their well-being.

A recent study by Tristan Cleveland and his colleagues found no evidence that higher-density living is associated with decreased happiness, social connection, or well-being. Instead, it found that a certain amount of density is necessary but not sufficient to maximize residents’ well-being. Well-designed density, such as pedestrian-friendly streets with easy access to transit and amenities like shops, restaurants, and parks, was positively correlated with well-being and happiness. However, poorly designed density, such as very small apartments, scarce green space, and wide roads, was correlated with decreased well-being.

Studies have found that living in walkable neighborhoods, spending less time driving and commuting, and having access to third places like coffee shops and parks are associated with better well-being and social connectedness. Living in walkable neighborhoods saves time, allowing people to spend more time with their families, exercise, and build social connections with their neighbors. However, for a neighborhood to support mass transit and amenities like local shops and restaurants, it needs a certain amount of density.

People across North America are not just worried about the cost of their neighborhoods but also about a sense of belonging. Respondents to the Happy Cities survey listed proximity to friends and family and “a neighborhood feel or sense of community” as the top elements missing from their neighborhoods. More than 40% of respondents chose to live in their neighborhood because of its proximity to social and recreational amenities, compared to just 28% who prioritized being close to work and 19% who prioritized proximity to schools.

The study found no significant correlation between the type of housing someone lives in and their wellbeing. People are just as likely to be happy in single-family homes, townhomes, and apartment towers. The researchers found that many large towers with smaller units were designed for lower-income residents and didn’t have as much access to community spaces and amenities.

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