Exploring the design-happiness connection

The way we design buildings, neighbourhoods and cities has a profound effect on health and happiness. We draw on a decade of research to make sense of that relationship. We offer evidence and examples to inspire designers, decision-makers and city-dwellers to embrace happy design. And we empower them to take action.

Our toolbox includes masterplans, design, workshops, presentations, happiness design audits and consultation. We also create urban experiments that transform participants’ understanding of their cities.

Planning + Design

We advise planners, policymakers and developers address placemaking, planning and design challenges through the lens of happiness. We participate directly in design processes, sharing insights from our research on the relationship between urban form, systems and wellbeing. We also create programs that draw designers and laypeople into creative collaboration.

We focus on:

Urban plans and policies
Joyful public spaces
Happy Homes
Inclusive public engagement
Tactical urbanism

Urban labs and experiments

Along with our collaborators, we explore the urban design-emotion connection using interactive public experiments.

We have surveyed thousands of Americans to produce a new understanding of the link between their commutes and their happiness. We have measured the emotional effects of architecture. We have used social tests to see how various landscapes influence altruistic behaviour. We have used giant building blocks to enable people to transform city streets.  Inspired by insights from academic research, these activities produce data to inform urban designers and public policy.

We also co-create events that give participants a visceral understanding of the relationship between design, emotions and social trust. We simulate bad transit experiences, chance encounters with strangers and Eden-like nature immersion—then we measure and talk about the effects. These urban labs are a powerful tool to drive discussion at conferences, public engagement processes and other gatherings.

Research and publications

We believe that the first challenge in transforming cities lies in changing minds. So, while our work is grounded in evidence and research, we also use stories of urban change and urban heroes to light the way towards happier places.


Policymakers around the world are embracing wellbeing as a legitimate and necessary goal. Jurisdictions from Bhutan to France to the United Nations have adopted happiness indices to help guide development and economic policy. Cities need to catch up.
How can you bring happiness into your own urban work? In Happy City’s in-person and remote workshops, we help participants master a new framework for incorporating wellbeing principles into design, policy and systems planning.

Keynotes and conversations

Through in-person and remote keynote presentations or in smaller conversations, Charles Montgomery and other members of the Happy City team will share inspiring stories from cities around the world. Our visual presentations draw lessons from science, innovative urban activism, and our own participatory experiments. We can also produce custom-made presentations based on your specific objectives.
We’ve recently led conversations on design and wellbeing with entities as varied as the World Health Organization, Canada’s National Capital Commission, the EcoDistricts Summit, Futurewise, the government of Mexico City, The City of Auckland and Arlington County Commuter Services.

We’ve also inspired audiences with the following organizations or events:
• The Cityquest/New Cities Forum in Saudi Arabia
• The American Society of Landscape Architects
• The American Society of Interior Designers
• The Terwilliger Centre for Housing (Urban Land Institute)
• The City of Ottawa planning department
• The 8-80 Doable Cities Forum
• The Chicago Architecture Foundation
• The U.S. National Building Museum
• The International Making Cities Livable conference
• The 22nd Annual Congress for New Urbanism
• The BMW Guggenheim Lab in New York and Berlin
• The Museum of Vancouver
• The B.C. Transit Association

Note: Charles Montgomery is represented by the Lavin Agency for all keynote events.

Watch videos of select presentations:

The National – Fixing our cities
Choosing the Happy City through transportation
Love Night at the BMW Guggenheim Lab

The response to the symposium has been fantastic! The audience was truly inspired by your presentation and you provided a real call to action for the local community. Thank you so much for a wonderful lecture.

—Architecture and Design Center, Palm Springs Art Museum

It was a true pleasure to have Christine McLaren speak at Design Museum Boston’s Summer Series.  Christine’s talk was informative, witty, and fun; capturing the attention and imagination of our audience as she outlined the impact urban design can have on human happiness. Through interesting anecdotes, scientific studies, and real numbers she successfully linked the design of our cities to our quality of life and sense of joy.

—Design Museum Boston

Charles Montgomery gave a terrific talk, getting back to the absolute fundamentals of true urbanism—people! Through a heady mix of anecdote, data and humor, he brought to life our essential task in making cities healthy and livable—enhancing social life, and thus making people happy. Charles was a refreshing voice for architects, planners and city officials.

—International Making Cities Livable conference

Head, heart and hands: Charles Montgomery covered it all! His energetic, humorous and thought-provoking presentation on people transforming their communities really inspired our United Way campaign volunteers. His heartfelt enthusiasm for people giving of their time to build strong social connections really struck a chord with these everyday heroes, galvanizing them to go out and help build a better community for everyone.

—United Way

Charles Montgomery offers a convincing, cogent argument for using happiness as an urban design lens. During his time in Halifax, Charles provided constructive ideas and thoughtful comments to help our city achieve its potential as a place where people can experience the best of what urban life has to offer. He is a passionate and effective speaker and folks here loved what he had to say.

—Mike Savage, Mayor of Halifax

Remote engagement

When the global coronavirus crisis hit, we knew that it was crucial for cities, city-builders and residents to stay engaged even when participants couldn’t meet in person. We tested and adapted our engagement methodologies to make city engagement processes accessible, inclusive and fun, even from afar.

Our remote engagement toolbox combines:
• Accessible, multi-activity workshops for participants of all ages, experiences and abilities
• Online video/audio conferences and meetings
• Surveys, shareable by email, social media or text message
• Stakeholder outreach through phone, text message and mail

Our human-centered approach uses empathy, co-creation and rapid iteration to respond to people’s needs, emotions, and lived experiences. These deep engagement approaches prioritize equity. In a time of physical distancing, we meet people where they’re at, tailoring our approaches to consider diverse abilities and levels of access to technology.

We bring years of deep remote experience to the table, from disseminating online surveys to reveal a community’s self-identity to facilitating video design charrettes with teams on different continents.

To learn more about how we can help you facilitate accessible and fun civic dialogue, email us today info@thehappycity.com