Cities for Well-being

Predictable Planning
Projects in this area approach cities as agents for enhancing the lives of people, organizations, and nature by improving their health, happiness, and prosperity. Cities, of course, are more than buildings, parks, and streets. Their growth is driven by the aspirations of diverse people coming together to explore the future of how they can live, work, learn, play. These activities give cities their character and energy, and contribute a great deal to the well-being of its inhabitants.While social activities change very quickly, often in unplanned and unexpected ways, planning processes for physical aspects of cities are slow because their outcome is expensive and difficult to change. However, the main difference between changing the physical and social dimensions of cities is not their speed of change.Their greatest difference is that changing social activities involves looking at current forces and responding in real time while changing physical artifacts looks at the past and tries to predict the future. The difference can be illustrated by two scenarios to alleviate traffic congestion.



Scenario One: Physical Environment
Sense that traffic is too congested.
Calculate volume of cars that is more acceptable.
Plan to build an extra lane.
Take several years to acquire land and build an extra lane.
Hope that this intervention solves the problem for decades.


Scenario Two: Social Activities
Sense that traffic is too congested.
Notice that peak congestion could be reduced if employers staggered times that people could start work.
Set up a series of experiments lasting two to four months to determine times, number of employers needed, communication channels, etc.


Flexible Planning for Activities Not Yet Imagined
At D-Lab, we think of a city as an ecology with interdependent constituencies of people, their organizations, and the natural environment that dynamically interact with one another. The high-level purpose of a city should be the health, happiness, and prosperity of these three constituencies, enabling all to flourish. Three recent classes in design for social innovation were taught in the context describe above, helping students explore more flexible ways to intervene in urban environments.


During winter 2020 we took 12 public health students from Harvard to Bangkok to work with 13 design students from two of the leading universities in Thailand, King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi and Chulalongkorn University, and the Magnolia Quality Development Corporation (MQDC). Magnolia is one of the innovative developers of urban neighborhoods in Thailand, have an extra ordinary interest in happiness and well-being in their projects. We worked inside Magnolia’s Research and Innovation Center for Sustainability (RISC) facility and leveraged their network and expertise about communities in Bangkok and life in Thailand. The students formed diverse teams and, at a very high level, developed directions for new neighborhoods that would foster well-being in Bangkok.
Our Spring 2018 class centered on urban food systems, senior living, and mobility. We worked with five organizations located in Boston Metropolitan Area (Boston Area Gleaners, Common Wealth Kitchen, Harvard University Dinning Service, Mass in Motion – Salem, and Hebrew Senior Life) and one in Detroit (Recovery Park). Below we share examples of student’s work in applying parts of the Whole View to each one of the organizations involved in class activities.

Student Projects
Boston Area Gleaners
Common Wealth Kitchen
Harvard University Dinning Service
Mass in Motion – Salem
Hebrew Senior Life
Recovery Park