Happy Cities: A New Model for Urban Interventions

Over the course of two weeks in January 2020, students from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and from Tufts University joined fellow students from the Architecture and Design School at King Mongkut University of Technology Thonburi and from the Department of Industrial Design (IDP) at Chulalongkorn University for an immersion  “Happy Cities – A Model for Urban Interventions”. The class took place at the Research and Innovation Center for Sustainability (RISC) and benefited from the involvement of Magnolia Quality Development Corporation Limited (MQDC) leadership.

The workshop represented an early exploration of a broader research agenda at HSPH centered on Design for Well-being. Led by Prof. Patrick Whitney and Andre Nogueira, Ph.D., this agenda explores how might new cities enable and promote the health, happiness, and prosperity of its inhabitants, including people, organizations, and the natural environment. Students learned and applied the Whole View (WV) to explore new urban interventions that accounted for improvements on the health of the public as well as the regeneration of local economies and ecosystems.

Selected locations in Bangkok were used as context for exploration. Among the areas, students visited a small neighborhood along the Lat Prao canal and an informal settlement in the Makkasan district. In each visit, they met with residents and community leaders and learned from their work, such as those related to the Triam Udom School, Bang Krachao Community, or Jatujak Market.

Understanding different dynamics in Bangkok from the WV allowed students to explore conceptual interventions considering the interconnectivity between business strategies, organizational operations and competencies, and new offerings, as they saw fit to address identified population needs in the areas they visited. The results of their work raised further research questions regarding contemporary urban development practices.

The workshop included introductory lectures on design and the Whole View model. Throughout the two weeks, complementary presentations from Thai organizations from across sectors, including foundations, corporations, manufactures, governmental agents, innovation labs, and NGOs, provided new insights on how Bangkok, and Thailand more broadly, are advancing on efforts at the intersection of well-being and urban development. Additional insights came from expeditions within the city, which were not only helpful for students to get to know each other in their mixed groups, but also to have unique experiences in the context of Thai culture and society. At the end of the two weeks, students presented their conceptual interventions to various stakeholders, including leaders from the private and public sector as well as from academia and NGOs.