My Story

Before The Epiphany

I was born in one city and bred in many other cities.

So, it is a little odd that as far back as I can remember, I’ve always dreamed of escaping the city to live the good life in the country. I’d tell people that one day, I’ll buy a cottage with crooked picket fences (white no less), a thriving kitchen garden backing out to a gurgling brook, where I’d get to write to my heart’s content and pop out, ever so occasionally, for scones and jam at the local church hall.

I have often wondered whether my affinity for the country-life comes from my childhood; when I would spend holidays visiting my paternal grandparents, who were hard-working immigrants from China, and had spent their whole lives eking out a living planting rice paddies in Malaysia. Or, my maternal grandparents, who, although were city-dwellers, always maintained a thriving garden chockfull with Asian vegetables and herbs, complete with backyard chickens and a wizened mango tree, whose boughs of shade my cousin and I used to play under.

My childhood was a tale of two places — the country-side and cities

That cities, and I have lived in a few, Kuala Lumpur, Pretoria, Sydney, Hamilton and visited even more, always seemed to carry the stigma of being the colder, harder cousin of the country-side. That that’s what one did, put up with the daily grind of the smog and clog of the city, so that you could reach the pinnacles of ambition, in the way that only cities can offer. And when you had done your time, and saved a tidy nest-egg, retire to the country to finally lead the good life.

My dream is still ever present but I’ve been wondering for a while now, do I actually want to live in the country-side or is what I actually want less about the country-side, and more about country-living or the good life, so to speak? And, why does it have always to be a tale of two places? Why must I have to choose between one or the other, are there not more creative ways in which we can live the good life in cities? For all the good that the country-side seems to offer, the fact of the matter is that I have lived in cities, all my life, it is where my deepest roots and bonds lie and to forsake that would be an awful sacrifice to have to make.

The Epiphany

That is, until I read Happy City by Charles Montgomery. It was an awakening of sorts for me reading Montgomery’s passionate treatise about how our cities, whether we realise it or now, are embodiments of our selves, and that in building happy cities, we are ultimately living the good life. In arguing so, it stands to reason that we have to take responsibility and participating in the very act of city-building, and that retrofitting our cities for happiness can be the panacea for the challenges of our age.

The Questions

I now have even more questions and deeply want to debate and ponder about what makes a happy city. Or indeed, what is a happy city? Is a happy city worth working towards or should we be investing in smart cities, resilient cities or whichever catchphrase of the day that dominates the halls of our city leaders?

How about the other questions, that city experts are also asking and exploring?

  • What role will new technology and data play?
  • How will green spaces be integrated into urban landscapes?
  • How will existing buildings be made more efficient and how will new buildings fit in with old?
  • Will cities be self sufficient and how will they be powered?
  • How will the public, private and third sectors work together?
  • Will we see an increase in the number of megacities, or would a model of smaller, connected centres be preferable?

Most of all, what can I do to help build a happy city? The truth, I don’t know, as yet, but one thing I do know for sure is that I’m sure as hell, going to find out.

Join me as I embark on The Happy City Project, a journey of discovery, learning and adventure — I’d love to hear from you, if you’d like to ask a question, share your thoughts or experiences!

An urban experimentalist at heart and a service designer by craft, Yuin loves that she gets to work with people, to reimagine everyday experiences, whether at work or at play. A foodie, she also loves a good adventure, whether it is in search of street-food or kayaking to a spit-roast.