The Happy City

Creating a happy moment where total strangers are able to meet and converse while sharing a meal

The Happy City project, a collaboration between three universities, defined a clear task: design something for the public space to increase communal happiness in the city of Rotterdam. Our starting point was a predetermined target group, in our case young ambitious muslim women. During our interviews we met five amazing women who did not fit into any particular category; we were speaking with individuals rather than with a target group.

Enlightened by these women we set out to create more conversation in the city as that could not only be a key to personal happiness but also to less judgement and hatred, especially concerning marginalized groups. We created Eet Je Mee diner (join us for dinner?), which is a self-sustaining project where total strangers are able to meet and converse while sharing a meal.

The name of our target group inherently assumed that being “young & ambitious” and “muslim” could not coexist. However, even that assumption was incorrect, as some women rather found that religion enhanced and justified their personal goals. The message was clear: we were speaking with individuals instead of with a target group. Our conversation with these young women was simply so inspiring that we wanted to pass it on during our project.

Design Vision

Conversations with others in society, that we would not normally encounter, create happiness by allowing us to expand horizons and be inspired. Also, conversation in the city enhances the overall acceptance for different individuals and cultures. Therefore we should design the place and opportunity in the city where these conversations can occur.

(translated: 1. Daily life 2. Surprise 3. Conversation) We philosophized that we can make conversation happen when there is a surprise element that acts as an icebreaker and an escape from daily life.

We used a framework to make sure our design could truly enhance happiness in the city. According to the framework, a design can truly make someone happy if it combines pleasure, personal growth, and virtue.

The execution of this philosophy is Eet Je Mee Diner (Join us for dinner?) pictured below. It features a mobile kitchen where an individual or two volunteers to cook for 8 to 10 guests in a public place. Guests are able to enjoy a meal while having conversations with a stranger, learning about different individuals and cultures. The dinners or luncheons are covered by small donations, and the cooking task is passed on to guests that are passionate about the project.

In order to see if this concept truly could enhance happiness in the city, we tested it! We prepared a meal on a sunny day in a park, and asked surrounding strangers if they would like to join us. Watch the video below to see how it went!

note: the video is in Dutch

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