In building city, what’s love got to do with it?


From Don Jonas, executive director of the nonprofit Care Ring:

Charlotte Assistant City Manager Hyong Yi turned heads at a press conference in Washington, D.C., recently to announce the expansion of Charlotte’s Envision Charlotte initiative.

He took this august moment to ask a panel of urban policy experts what they thought about … love.

More specifically, he wanted to know what role love plays in establishing an urban culture built on loving our neighbors.

This reportedly drew furrowed brows and hand-wringing, followed by an urgent dash away from the topic and toward things these guys think are really important, like transit, concrete and economic cost-benefit analyses.

All important elements of a functioning city.

But what’s love got to do with it?

Hyong’s unorthodox question maybe wasn’t so eccentric after all.

Charles Montgomery’s book “Happy City” offers clues from places around the world about how we can establish a city where all – regardless of economic circumstance or the neighborhood they live in – have the best shot at establishing good health.

Montgomery makes the case that cities can offer a variety of amenities and distractions, such as roads and buses and stadiums. But based on a growing body of academic literature, one of the most powerful effects of the city “is the way it moderates our relationships with people.”

The more a city brings people together, the more likely the city will thrive.

Montgomery cites economist John Helliwell’s research into the world of happiness economics. Helliwell posits that “if 10 percent more people thought they had someone to count on in life, it would have a greater effect on national life satisfaction than giving everyone a 50 percent raise.”

Having “someone to count on in life” is based on creating authentic relationships that become cemented in trust.

So when we think about building a great city, what’s love got to do with it?

What compels us to roll up our sleeves and tackle some of Charlotte’s greatest challenges? What causes health care professionals and social workers and volunteers to decide to go into Charlotte’s most fragile – and in some cases most dangerous – neighborhoods to uplift lives by building long-term relationships with those in need?

What internal urge attracts administrative experts, fundraising dynamos, and accounting, human resource and other professionals to work with the less fortunate at poverty-fighting agencies across Charlotte, at incomes and prestige at a much lower level than what the market provides?

Love, love, love.