Keywords: Social change in Toronto, Toronto life, happiness in cities

Normally cities look to economic growth to measure their success rate. The author of the world happiness report believes there is a better way to do it. The report, released every spring, presents the available global data on national happiness. It compiles evidence on topics digging deeper into the science of well-being, and on happiness in specific countries and regions.

The things that predict societal happiness include: wealth, healthy and long lives, living in a generous society, freedom from corruption and to make life choices. Above all, happiness depends on positive social relationships. No longer just a personal pursuit, scientists have found that the cities that surround us have an impact on our happiness.

Some of the world’s major city centres have really embraced this “happiness movement”. Dubai, for instance, has developed a tool to measure the success of all new projects at nurturing long-term happiness. Those who study the effects of happiness and well-being want more urban centres to adopt this outlook. Countries around the world were studied and inspiration for well-being projects came from all over the place.

A particular one of interest is a grassroots project in Vancouver. “Binners” are a group of people that go around central Vancouver collecting bottles and other recycled products. When local social activists got wind of them an amazing initiative blossomed. With the help of the activists and support from the City of Vancouver, the Binners got organized into efficient recycling teams. They put on uniforms. They struck waste sorting deals with local businesses and festivals.

The social program has helped the city meet sustainability quotas and has drastically reduced landfill waste. But perhaps the most notable improvement is in the Binners’ well-being. It has given them a sense of community they have never had the opportunity to experience. When asked about the program one binner replied, “We are not just hanging out in back alleys anymore. Our voices are heard. We are appreciated.”

The lesson for cities? If you want to solve poverty and marginalization, the smartest approach is to get the experts — the poor and marginalized — to help with solutions.


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