Why The Joy Experiments Was Written - Dundurn
Jun 06, 2024

Why The Joy Experiments Was Written

The Joy Experiments was written as a discussion - with multiple entry points of information, about the city-building efforts of Scott Higgins and myself over the last 8 years to create better cities. It covers what elements worked for our projects, and some ideas that didn’t quite pan out. It’s all about generating a conversation about what makes great cities work, beyond its roads, sewers, and pipelines.

The new and much-needed key ingredient in cities is “infrastructure for the human spirit.”

When you look at what’s going on around us, it’s clear that society is divided, and we can definitely design cities that are capable of healing that divide. We can start by helping people deal with the loneliness, isolation, and distrust that exist at epidemic proportions today.

A lot of people have opinions on the cities they live in, but our book is for the great majority of people who have yet to articulate their position because they think cities are just are what they are. The book provides them with new language – along with new perspectives – about how things could work better and their relationship to other citizens. 

When it comes to designing our cities, people need a different way of talking. They need language that can be commonly held between the various audiences and their various opinions.

This is one of the reasons why we use the word ‘joy.’ Who's going to line up and say, ‘No, I don't want more joy?’

The Joy Experiments draws attention to how people interact with one another in the real world: our neighbourhoods, transportation systems, and our shared spaces like parks. It also challenges our concept of the word “community”.  

Even if they go unnoticed, those daily public connections form a bond between residents. Common goals and stories told about the city, about ourselves. The book suggests that we need more of these connections. Traditionally, parks were designed for citizens to retreat from the bustle of urban life, but today’s society is deeply withdrawn and isolated. We need public spaces that are purpose-built for engagement; places where we all learn to play with strangers.

And since humans are social by nature, any disruption to that connection can have a serious effects on us, collectively.

That includes the divisions – for better or worse – sowed by technology, specifically the depression and anxiety brought on by time spent in the hyper-tribal world of social media.

The tool to counter the virtual world is our cities. It's not nations, it's not national governments. It's not what happens in Davos, Switzerland.

Cities have the scale to impact our lives, profoundly, and they have the scale to impact the world. If you start by changing cities, you can have some hope that you can change the world.

This is a book about our journey. It’s a discussion around the things we experimented with and what we learned. But the book was also designed to allow people to take their own journey; connect dots in their own way and draw their own conclusions.  

I hope that readers can find a way to appreciate diverse points of view about the communities we live in, and also provide tools to collaborate.

We first need to redesign WE because if we can't find a way of uniting and collaborating, we're never going to be able to tackle the bigger things like homelessness, and climate change.

For me, I think this is the issue of our times.

Paul Kalbfleisch is a writer, visual artist, business leader, and creative collaborator who places himself in the middle of projects that require strong vision and imaginative design. He lives in Waterloo, Ontario.

Scott Higgins is a passionate business and community builder who, as President of HIP Developments, Inc., plays a leadership role in the evolution of the Region of Waterloo in southern Ontario. He lives in Kitchener, Ontario.