Saturday, September 25, 2010

Happiness in Metropolitan Communities

Richard Florida’s article, “Cities”, was first published in The Gazette of Montreal, Quebec on May 15, 2010.


“There are three key attributes that make people happy in their communities and cause them to develop a solid emotional attachment to the place they live in. The first is the physical beauty and the level of maintenance of the place itself - great open spaces and parks, historic buildings, and an attention to community aesthetics. The second is the ease with which people can meet others, make friends, and plug into social networks. The third piece of the happiness puzzle is the level of diversity, open-mindedness, and acceptance.” [i]


Florida’s three key attributes are closely aligned with the United States Declaration of Independence, “…Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” These words best describe the American Dream, a dream that perpetuates today.


The 2008 financial crisis derailed American dreams consuming approximately 7.4 million jobs.[ii] Without work, the unemployed were forced to seek new opportunities and reassess their current community happiness. In a large-scale Gallup Organization survey in 2005, more than 27,000 people in 8,000 communities nationwide reported, where you live matters as much as your job and personal life when it comes to determining your level of happiness.[iii]

The pyramid above represents a hierarchy of values using five characteristics. The lowest tier includes community amenities such as roads, utility infrastructure, good schools, low crime, and access to health care. The second tier includes economic, civic, and social opportunities for business and social networking. The middle tier embraces local leadership and community engagement. The fourth tier describes a diverse community where anyone and everyone can feel accepted, respected, and prosperous. The top of the pyramid details the aesthetics and quality of the community. Aesthetic features include building skylines, historical architecture, artwork, parks, trails, and open space.[iv] These five characteristics of 2008 were narrowed to three in 2010. Florida’s “three key attributes” combined the third and fourth tiers, joining diversity and community engagement; also, the lowest tier, community basics, was removed. Though community amenities are essential, they are often taken for granted because the majority of employment opportunities are located in developed cities.


The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the creation of 15.3 million new jobs by 2018.[v] Since job growth is a function of population size, these new jobs will spawn in the largest metropolitan areas. College towns are key locations for new employment opportunities. For recent college graduates in their twenties, the order of the happiness hierarchy is slightly different. Opportunity is at the top of the pyramid because personal networking has become essential in a saturated job market. The common adage, “it’s not what you know, but who you know”, reigns true. This generation is more mobile, three to four times more likely to relocate than 50-year olds.[vi] Generally speaking, 20-year olds have fewer responsibilities and are not tied down by family, home-ownership, or an established career. This freedom allows the younger generation more opportunities to seek community happiness and chase the American dream.


Personal health is another contributing factor to happy people. A new Gallup-Healthways survey based on telephone interviews with 173,581 employed Americans over the past year, found Americans with longer commutes suffer higher levels of back pain, higher cholesterol, and higher levels of obesity. In addition to physical health, emotional strains on commuters included worrying more, experiencing less enjoyment, and feeling less well-rested[vii].Americans that spend less time commuting have more free time to exercise, socialize, and maintain a balanced, healthy lifestyle.


The American pursuit of happiness has remained constant, even though millions of Americans have lost their jobs due to the financial crisis. In the quest for happiness, individuals must determine their personal hierarchical values. A common trend is driving the unemployed and recently graduated to metropolitan areas that embrace Florida’s key attributes. These communities have attractive physical aspects, various social networks, and equal employment opportunities for all demographics. By avoiding large commutes and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, Americans can see a bright future ahead.

Endnotes:


[i] Richard Florida. (2010, May 15). Cities. The Gazette,B.5. Retrieved September 20, 2010, from ProQuest Newsstand. (Document ID: 2035533721).

[ii] Richard Florida. (2010, August 17). Where the jobs will be. The Atlantic. Retrieved Septmeber 19, 2010 from http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2010/08/where-the-jobs-will-be/61459/.

[iii] Richard Florida. (2008, June 15). Bigger than we know :Buffalo needs to develop its position in our mega-region. Buffalo News,H.1. Retrieved September 19, 2010, from ProQuest Newsstand. (Document ID: 1495656951).

[iv] Richard Florida. (2008, June 15). Bigger than we know :Buffalo needs to develop its position in our mega-region. Buffalo News,H.1. Retrieved September 19, 2010, from ProQuest Newsstand. (Document ID: 1495656951).

[v] Richard Florida. (2010, August 17). Where the jobs will be. The Atlantic. Retrieved Septmeber 19, 2010 from http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2010/08/where-the-jobs-will-be/61459/.

[vi] Richard Florida. (2010, May 26). 25 Best cities for college graduates. Daily Beast. Retrieved September 20, 2010 from http://creativeclass.com/rfcgdb/articles/Daily%20Beast.pdf.

[vii] Richard Florida. (2010, August 15). Commuting Is Very Bad for You. The Atlantic. Retrieved September 19, 2010 from http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2010/08/commuting-is-very-bad-for-you/61481/ .

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