Gross Domestic Product or GDP is usually regarded as the milestone of economic progress.
Cities like to grow so that their GDP increases. They like to claim every inch of open spaces. They like to have economic activities that exploit natural resources, encroach public spaces and even pollute the water, air and land.
Every time anyone exploits, encroaches or pollutes a stream or river, GDP increases.
GDP also grows as we now need to transport water from further and further away having destroyed the local source of freshwater. GDP increases every time we sell water in bottles and filtration devices. GDP increases when we fill hospitals or sell drugs required to treat water borne diseases. GDP increases when we build apartments on wetlands and on the land of rivers.
GDP increases when floods destroy our habitats built on water bodies.
Every time the pavement is dug up and redone, every time the road has potholes that need to be filled, every time our vehicles are damaged by bad roads, or we need to travel longer and longer distances more slowly as we wait in traffic, GDP increases.
Every time we suffer pollution and treat ourselves for asthma and lung disease, our GDP increases. Every time we congest our cities with more buildings, more taller buildings, our GDP increases.
You get the point?
None of these, however, increase our happiness. In fact each of these take away the core of what brought happiness. They take away the soul of our cities.
Happy cities don’t make decisions to promote economic activities. They make decisions in order to increase the quality of life.
They take decisions that protect and nourish the values, the culture and the lifestyle of those who live in it. They are not deciding to make the city attractive to investors, they are striving to make it a happy place for those within.
When cities don’t measure the value of land in terms off returns per square meter but in terms of open space per person they begin to bring happiness back into cities. When cities don’t measure trees in terms of the land they free up for real estate but in terms of the number of hundred plus year old trees per person, they bring back happiness into the cities. When cities don’t see streams and rivers as cheap land for sewers, roads and metro lines, they bring back happiness into the cities.
King Midas discovered the hard way, as did the many suitors to Portia, that all that glitters is not gold.
GDP is short term. It is about maximising the economic activities every quarter. GDP is about the promotion of private interests. The interest of the promoters of economic activities and projects that bring profits to their enterprises, not happiness to cities.
Happiness is about the short-now, the lifetime of a child born today. Happy cities don’t plan the short-term. They plan for the short-now. They preserve the values of its culture and its environment. They value its uniqueness and work to preserve it.
Mayors of happy cities seek counsel and wisdom of a council of elders who help protect the cities happiness. Mayors of happy cities seek to preserve the open spaces, walkability, green cover, fresh water streams, rivers, lakes, hills and mountains as public spaces that spread happiness. The council of elders help the mayors to ensure GDP growth doesn’t happen at the cost of happiness.
Will Pune lead the country in happiness?
#All views expressed in this column are those of the author and Pune365 does not necessarily subscribe to them.
He can be reached @AnupamSaraph