Can You Run A City Based On Happiness?

Big Data , Culture, Philosophy, and Humanity , Happiness , Medical and Health , Politics, Public Policy, Government , Rudy de Waele , TFA Member Posts

Here’s an interesting article on how a city can learn more about its citizens by using data analytics. The results are always surprising!

Santa Monica’s Wellbeing Project is the result of two years of work and a $1 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies. The goal was to have Santa Monica provide a model of how cities can develop strategies for maximizing their citizens’ happiness, rather than traditional measures of economic prosperity. Many national governments, like Bhutan, Chile, and Canada, have been adopting this idea, but it hasn’t yet happened much on a local level.

“One of the things that we were really attempting to do is go beyond the traditional ways that governments use data, like miles of bike lanes, trees per acre, or crime rates.” says Julie Rusk, the city’s human services manager. “These are things we know are important, but what we wanted to do is take some of that data and combine it with surveys and social media to really understand how people are experiencing their lives.”

The results were surprising to the city, which always prided itself on its higher voter rates and volunteering rates than other parts of the state and the nation. Yet a surprisingly large percentage of residents felt they had little influence on local decision making. Furthermore people feel disengaged from their own communities: Only 56% say they know people they can count on in their neighborhood, while nationally 80% of Americans say they do. Santa Monicans were also not as healthy as the city thought, given the beautiful weather and plethora of outdoor activity options: more than 50% were not active every day. Many were concerned about affordability, with more than half believing that their children wouldn’t be able to afford to stay in the city.

On a personal level, the most surprising results was that it was young people, age 18 to 34, who tended to be most dissatisfied with their lives, while older age groups reported the highest satisfaction. In most national surveys, these poles tend to be reversed, with young age groups the happiest. About 1 in 3 young people said they were stressed all or most of the time. One in 5 said they were lonely all or most of the time. Santa Monica also found that its Latino residents report lower well-being than everyone else.

The next step for the city is to figure out what to do with all of this information. “Civic engagement and social cohesion results seem to be resonating most with people,” says Rusk. “We know that being able to know your neighbors and count on them is a very important research-based metric in how resilient communities are. We’re working on strategies in partnership with communities to work on these social capital issues.”

The city is also looking to share its approach with other local governments. It has set up a detailed website to share the results with both its own citizens and others. You can read more about the work here.

Read the full article here.

Posted by Rudy de Waele / @mtrends /

Rudy de Waele


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