Flickr photo by seq
We’ve reported earlier on the UK government’s recent decision to measure the happiness of its citizens. The latest government to do so is neighboring Somerville, MA. Somerville, which went by the nickname of “Slummerville” in the 1980s for cheap and affordable 3-decker housing and the highest residential concentration of any community in New England, has recently become more hip and gentrified thanks to the revitalization of places like Inman Square and Davis Square.
Somerville Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone is a recent graduate of the mid-career program Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) and a visionary who has worked with HKS on many other local government measurement projects (SomerStat). The NY Times quotes Curtatone as saying that the project was a “no-brainer” and he noted that “cities keep careful track of their finances, but a bond rating doesn’t tell us how people feel or why they want to raise a family here or relocate a business here.”
The city is collaborating with happiness expert Dan Gilbert at Harvard and ultimately hopes to use these data to see how things like the extension of the subway green line affect happiness or how Somerville’s happiness compares with neighboring towns.
The voluntary survey asks such questions like:
- How happy do you feel right now? (1-10 scale)How satisfied are you with your life in general? (1-10 scale)
In general, how similar are you to other people you know? (1-10 scale)
When making decisions, are you more likely to seek advice or decide for yourself? (1-10 scale)
- Taking everything into account, how satisfied are you with Somerville as a place to live? (1-10 scale)
The survey also asks residents to rate Somerville’s “beauty or physical setting” [likely fairly low for anyone who has spent time in Somerville], “availability of affordable housing”, quality of local public schools, and effectiveness of local police.
Researchers hope to correlate ratings of well-being, demographics, satisfaction with Somerville amenities, and proximity to various parts of Somerville to unpack what makes residents more or less satisfied.
As the NY Times observes: “Monitoring the citizenry’s happiness has been advocated by prominent psychologists and economists, but not without debate over how to do it and whether happiness is even the right thing for politicians to be promoting. The pursuit of happiness may be an inalienable right, but that is not the same as reporting blissful feelings on a questionnaire. ”
See “How Happy Are You? A Census Wants to Know” (NY Times, 4/30/11 by John Tierney)
See Somerville’s voluntary “Wellbeing and Community Survey”
See “Somerville, Mass., aims to boost happiness. Can it?” (CS Monitor, 4/4/11 by Mary Helen Miller)
Posted in census, christian science monitor, community, dan gilbert, happiness, harvard, John Tierney, Joseph Curtatone, kennedy school, life satisfaction, Mary Helen Miller, Mayor, new york times, satisfaction, SomerStat, Somerville, survey research
Tagged census, Christian Science Monitor, community, dan gilbert, happiness, harvard, John Tierney, Joseph Curtatone, kennedy school, life satisfaction, Mary Helen Miller, Mayor, new york times, satisfaction, SomerStat, Somerville, survey research
Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has an Op-Ed in the Christian Science Monitor sounding a theme very simpatico with the Saguaro Seminar’s concerns: the strange disappearance of civics courses.
She notes that the recent uptick in youth voting is encouraging, but it is a thin democracy indeed without a deeper understanding of civics, which she notes is a casualty of high-stakes educational testing. And we have been paying the price in a decline in civic skills and knowledge. *On the last nationwide civics assessment, administered in 2006, two- thirds of students scored below proficiency. Not even a third of eighth-graders surveyed could identify the historical purpose of the Declaration of Independence. Less than a fifth of high school seniors could explain how citizen participation benefits democracy.*
As troubling, she notes a growing race and class discrepancy: a *widening civic achievement gap. Hispanic and African-American students are twice as likely as their white counterparts to lack civic knowledge and skills, while low- income students score significantly lower than middle- and upper- income students. In other words, our schools’ failure when it comes to civic education is especially stark in communities most in need of civic engagement.*
She calls on states and the federal government on the 221rst anniversary of the Constitution to beef up the civic content of schools to truly make our democracy strong.
For some interesting links on civics, see our Saguaro page on this.
Read: Sandra Day O’Connor’s, “A democracy without civics?” (Christian Science Monitor Op-Ed, 9/18/08)
There is an interesting op-ed today in the CS Monitor called “One small bright spot in Katrina’s aftermath: neighborhood loyalty”(8/30/07). It’s not a very data-filled argument, but Danny Heitman argues that despite the mobility in America, Louisiana residents show a greater in-bred permanence and commitment to neighborhoods.
Heitman writes: “[I]n the New Orleans neighborhood of Lakeview, directly in the path of flood waters when the Crescent City’s levees failed after Katrina, signs of renewal have emerged, often driven by longtime residents who cannot think of living anywhere else.
“This past spring’s survey of the neighborhood by local civic groups concluded that some 40 percent of Lakeview’s 7,000-plus homes are either occupied or under repair, a boost of 15 percent from last autumn’s numbers.”
Heitman thinks that part is homeowners staying because they expect properties to appreciate more and older neighborhoods may attract dollars for historical rebuilding.
“The homebody culture of Louisiana is another factor in the diehard nature of the recovery. As William Frey of the Brookings Institution noted after Katrina, 77 percent of New Orleans area residents are Louisiana natives, a native-born rate that far surpasses other Southern cities.”
Here is full article: One small bright spot in Katrina’s aftermath: neighborhood loyalty: The commitment of residents to rebuilding has extended not just to a given city or region, but more narrowly to a neighborhood block. (Christian Science Monitor, Danny Heitman, 8/30/07)