Why is emotional data failing to produce more humane cities? Urban governance and the (interdisciplinary) problem of wellbeing

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The city is often highlighted as the key space in which our emotions and personal mental health can be shaped. Globally, place-based approaches to promoting urban health and happiness have become commonplace. Initiatives and policies improving urban and regional wellbeing operate at a range of scales, from global alliances of NGOs and supranational health bodies, to regional, local, and community action. This paper critically reviews the spatial imaginaries and limited discipline-specific definitions of the urban and wellbeing present in data-driven approaches to urban emotions and wellbeing, and the potential effectiveness of the policy solutions which are proposed as a result. Responding to the very specific forms of interdisciplinarity advanced to date, the paper outlines how a dialogue between humanities perspectives on emotional cultures, and political economies of place-based wellbeing interventions can be advanced to address these limitations
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
JournalUrban Geography
Early online date15 Feb 2022
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 15 Feb 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The work of many national-level statistics agencies has been supported by global co-ordination by organizations such as the OECD, through the development of standardized international frameworks for measuring wellbeing (work programmes such as the Better Life Initiative and Measuring Well-Being and Progress, since 2009), and the European Union Statistics on Income and Living Conditions survey since 2003. This is complemented by global surveys administered by commercial polling companies, such as the Gallup World Poll since 2005 and the Gallup Emotions Report since 2017, and by international academic alliances, such as the World Values Survey since 1981 – reflecting substantial developments to the Social Indicators movement of the 1970s. Global indices of happiness have been produced by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network – who have published the World Happiness Reports annually since 2012. Whilst some of these measures are used to compose sets of (objective; quality of life, living standards) well-being indicators, others rely on surveys to aggregate individual subjective wellbeing – through questions asking directly about a person’s evaluation of their own happiness or perceived life satisfaction on a numerical scale.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Emotions
  • governance
  • happiness
  • literary geographies
  • policy
  • wellbeing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Urban Studies


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