The Science of Beautiful Cities

May 22, 2015

I always knew it was true. There had to be something to my desire to stay in pretty hotels and visit cities with distinctive architecture — not just clean or luxurious places, but beautiful.

As it turns out, beauty, when it comes to cities, is not in the eye of the beholder. It's objective and quantifiable. And not only that, beautiful cities make us happy. How do we know? Science.

Beautiful Cities Make Us Happy

A study by a research team from the University of Toronto and J?nk?ping International Business School has borne out this fact, that "beauty is significantly associated with community satisfaction." The study ties happiness to how aesthetically pleasing a city is, as well as to having a design that fosters connectedness among people.

Along these same lines, researchers from West Virginia University and the University of South Carolina Upstate found that "the design and conditions of cities are associated with the happiness of residents in 10 urban areas." When you compare the cities referenced in the study to the most popular tourism destinations, you can't help but wonder if there's a correlation.

Criteria of a Beautiful City

For an entertaining outline of this perspective, view the short video by Alain de Botton. He outlines the principles underlying what makes cities, such as Paris or Amsterdam, beautiful. The bottom line, it seems, is balance — the balance between connectedness and privacy; order and complexity; familiarity and mystery.

Traveling Beautifully

As I plan trips for clients, I continue to find myself guiding travelers to what's beautiful, perhaps a particularly charming hotel overlooking a courtyard garden, or a show at a historic opera house built by artisans, or an area of town with architecture that transports you to another time, for no other reason than because it's beautiful.

But as I'm learning, this is a good thing, because, according to science, it will make them happy.

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