The World Happiness Report, produced by United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions, ranks 156 countries, and Denmark has been one of the happiest since the report’s inception in 2012. Happiness is measured through positive affect, negative affect, and life evaluations (which include GDP, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity, and absence of corruption). Social support is constructed through the built environment through proximity of buildings and services that typically are not placed together. For example, this addiction clinic (building to the right) is found next to a popular restaurant on a main street. Bringing together different kinds of people can break down stereotypes and create a sense of community.
Social support and happiness
Close to 70% of housing in Denmark is within a cooperative housing scheme. Anyone buying a house or an apartment pays for the right to use that unit, and their payment covers a share of the wealth of the cooperative itself. The tax structure is designed to keep these units affordable, protecting the residents financially and from homelessness. As people across the socio-economic spectrum can be sharing a co-op, connections can be built between retired workers, young students, doctors, policemen, artists, and so on. Affordable housing can be found everywhere in the city, including this building across from one of the city’s most upscale developments.
Often new immigrant populations don’t know the “unspoken rules” of suburban living. The city of Eden Prairie was receiving a plethora of angry calls from neighbors who would report that “those” people just didn’t know how to maintain their homes. To lessen these tensions, the city began to send trained personnel to new families’ homes to bridge understandings about expectations for things like lawn maintenance, garbage disposal and recycling, etc. This approach has worked rather well as indicated by the drop in “angry” phones-ins.
Eden Prairie, Minnesota
The demographic composition of Eden Prairie has changed in the past decades and people of color now comprise 23.37% of the population, versus 4.08% in 1990. As a way to reach its many constituents, the city employs a “take it to them” approach. For many years, the city has facilitated successful parenting classes providing professionally guided discussions, information, and effective parenting strategies for parents of children ages 3 – 16. Often these programs are held in the community rooms of low-income apartment complexes including Briarhill and Prairie Meadows Apartments where many immigrant populations reside. The city says this type of outreach is well attended, especially if the invitation comes from members of these communities.
The Eagan Market Fest is located at the Eagan Community Center and is accessible by multiple bus routes. Rated the #1 Farmers Market in MN and a top 20 market nationwide, the Eagan Market Fest is open year-round and attracts more than 34,000 attendees. As the market accepts SNAP/EBT food assistance cards, low-income households have an incentive to buy local produce and healthy foods. Theme nights highlight the community’s diversity while people gather for picnics on the large, open grassy lawn in the warm months. “The audience you see at Market Fest is a different audience than the one you see when you go into a City of Eagan Council meeting,” said Mayor Mike Maguire. Bridging cultural, ethnic, and economic differences, the market is a space for residents to connect and strengthen the unique character of Eagan.
Eagan Market Fest
Photo credit: City of Eagan Staff
Duluth’s Mayor Larson holds informal one-on-one meetings with indigenous, homeless, LGBTQ, youth, poor, and otherwise disenfranchised community members as a way to have dialogues about their needs. “It is really just intended to say, you know ‘What’s it like for you to live in this city? What feels safe? What doesn’t feel safe? What’s working? What’s not working?’”, says Mayor Larson. The press is not invited. Instead, the word is spread through community leaders and the meetings are held in spaces that are comfortable and easy to access for those communities.
“City Hall in the City”
Photo credit: Alicia Kozlowski from City of Duluth
Larger housing units are needed to support different size families, including extended family. Instead of building more housing, the city sees potential in investing in what they have and making it work. “The answer has been that we need to really utilize our existing housing stock,” explains Matt Glaesman, Community Development Director. “We need to take advantage of everything, focusing [on] renovation and rehabilitation.” Recognizing that the ratio of square footage to household size was much smaller historically than it has been in recent years, St. Cloud is promoting a ‘use what you’ve got’ mentality by encouraging rehabilitation of the existing housing stock. Updating conditions, accessory structures, converting attics into bedrooms, or basements into extra living space all help accommodate larger families. Assistance programs help low-income households obtain these needed renovations.
The Woodbury Citizens’ Academy is a free, eight-week program that engages residents in their community. The Academy develops future leaders, who are important to assuring a strong Woodbury in the future, by exposing residents to government, history, city works, and cultural competency and diversity. Each week the Academy takes place in a different location, utilizing existing community resources. “It’s still free [and] they get 30, 35 people a year and I’m always surprised at the diversity of the group…there are a variety of ages, backgrounds, and ethnicities,” reflects Janelle Schmitz, Assistant Community Development. The program expands the knowledge of residents in a way that encourages more involvement in the community.
Currently, the Cedar Riverside Neighborhood is home to a largely Somali immigrant population. Thousands of Somalis came to Minnesota in the early 1990s and now, the Twin Cities area has one of the largest concentrations of Somalis in the country. The influx of Somalis transformed Cedar-Riverside physically as well as demographically and Somali grocery stores and restaurants as well as social services and mosques line the area streets. The Cedar Cultural Center, which strives to “promote inter-cultural appreciation and understanding through the presentation of global music and dance” (The Cedar, 2015), holds over 200 events each year, including events that engage Somali community members.
Cedar Riverside Neighborhood
Minneapolis boasts many festivals and exhibits that celebrate the city’s cultural and ethnic diversity as well as bring people together. These take place in museums, outdoor plazas and parks, as well as streets and religious establishments. Founded in 1989, the Taste of Greece Festival is held yearly at Saint Mary’s Greek Orthodox Church in early September. The festival includes Greek food, traditional dances, homemade pastries, church tours, wine tastings, cultural demonstrations, a marketplace and a children’s area. The festival is the culmination of hours of volunteer work by church members and raised funds are used to support philanthropic efforts locally and abroad.
Taste of Greece Festival