Picking the most well-planned cities in the world is not an easy task, as good planning involves many more factors than just wide roads and tall buildings. As cities around the world look for ways to deal with problems like rising sea levels and overpopulation, it’s all the more important to design our urban areas – where most of the human population lives – in a sustainable manner.
The world’s most well-planned cities aren’t just beautiful to look at, but also built keeping the inevitable problems of the future in mind. As entire regions around the world – especially in the more underdeveloped third world – turn unlivable due to bad government policies and unregulated industries, these cities remind us that it’s still entirely possible to develop our urban areas in a manner that doesn’t reduce the quality of life for their residents.
10. Shanghai, China
If you’ve ever traveled to China, you’d know that the country boasts of some of the most sprawling, sophisticated cities in the world. Shanghai, however, towers above them all.
The city’s successes in urban planning go well beyond the city’s glittering, futuristic skyline. Home to the headquarters of some of the largest companies in the world, the road and highway network of the city is constantly upgraded and maintained to ensure smooth traffic, which is a huge problem for other larger Chinese cities, like Beijing. Shanghai also has the world’s largest, most-frequently-used metro system in the world, which is seamlessly interconnected with the intricate bus network to efficiently connect the various, specialized districts of the vast city.
Talking about the city’s architecture, it’s a curious mix of the old and new, giving the city a unique character among its other Chinese counterparts. At any given time, you can find as many renovations of old, heritage buildings going on across Shanghai as the construction of new, futuristic buildings designed by some of the best architects in the world.
9. Medellín, Colombia
Dial the clocks back by about thirty years, and you’d find Medellín to be the most dangerous city in the world, as it was divided between its impoverished, high-crime slums – or comunas – and the relatively-prosperous, gated city centre. That remained until 1991, when the constitution was ratified to provide greater autonomy to local regions for electing their own leaders.
Since then, Medellín has turned into an example for equitable urban development around the world, owing to its efficient system of participatory planning and community feedback. Thanks to a 1998 Colombian law that mandates every municipality to come up with its own plan by consulting its people, Medellín’s urban development involves most of the stakeholders living across the city in the decision-making process; a system that has since been replicated in small towns in other countries.
As a result, the city has turned from a segregated, unequal and high-crime collection of separate communities into a coherent and accessible space for all. A network of cable cars, elevators and metros connects previously-disconnected communities for the first time in the city’s history, each developed after ample consultation with the people on the ground. The city has also made efforts to develop the poorer neighborhoods with libraries, public schools and cultural centres, further reducing the divide between the rich and poor parts of the city.
When Singapore gained its independence from the British in 1959, it was in a bad shape. While the southern tip of the tiny island was built as a British-era business district, the rest of Singapore mostly lived in densely-populated tenements in the outskirts, with no amenities – or even continued water supply – to speak of.
Nearly 60 years later, Singapore has managed to turn itself into one of the best-planned cities in the world. While the city is known for its greenery, road network, educational institutions and efficient design, the true success of its urban planning lies in public housing.
Since 1960, Singapore has added close to a million new houses, combined with rent controls and financing schemes to promote home ownership. As a result, 90% of permanent residents in Singapore now own their homes; a striking achievement looking at the city’s consistently-rising population density.
7. Amsterdam, Netherlands
Almost the entire Netherlands suffers from a peculiar problem – a huge part of it lies either below or at sea level. As a result, the government has to consistently keep coming up with new ways of developing sustainably. If you take a look at how Amsterdam is built, you’d see that it has largely succeeded at it, too.
Easily one of the better planned cities in the world, Amsterdam is an almost-perfect amalgam of disaster-proof city planning, sustainable architecture and an efficient, integrated public transport system.
Since the 1970s, the city’s planning has been focussed on reducing its dependence on cars, and promoting other sustainable modes of transport such as walking, cycling and public transport. It’s not rare to find lanes dedicated only to bikers, making it possible to cover much larger distances without relying on cars. As a way to further discourage vehicles, fuel is also taxed at a higher rate in Netherlands than, say, the USA.
6. Zurich, Switzerland
Zurich – the largest city in Switzerland – is one of the best examples of urban infrastructure built keeping sustainability in mind. The first thing you’d notice if you ever get a chance to visit is the conspicuous absence of cars. In fact, its perfectly possible to spend your entire life in Zurich without ever sitting in a car, owing to its well-built, intricate network of public transport.
The entire city is connected by a network of a variety of modes of public transport, including buses, trams, light rails and ferries plying across Lake Zurich. The fares are low enough to encourage public transport over buying a private vehicle and make the city more tourist-friendly. The city is also under consistent upgradation, as new bike ramps, plazas and other features are regularly added to the landscape.
To keep the number of cars low, Zurich has installed about 4,500 sensors across the city to keep a check on the movement of vehicles. That – along with other efficient ways to discourage cars – has resulted in a city largely free from problems like traffic and pollution, with a car ownership rate of less than 50%.
5. Copenhagen, Denmark
While Copenhagen in Denmark has always been one of the better-built cities in Europe, it was the government’s Five Finger Plan of 1947 that put the city’s planning and architecture among the best in the world.
The plan was aimed at overhauling the public transport of the city, along with increasing the green cover of the city. Since it was implemented more than 70 years ago, Copenhagen has gradually turned into one of the most well-planned cities in the world.
Almost the entire city is connected by a functioning, efficient bus system, along with four lines of water-buses and the metro, all of which come together to provide transportation to the city’s 600,000 inhabitants. Copenhagen is also one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the world, as well as one of the few cities actively reducing their dependence on cars by consistently upgrading its network to integrate other, more-sustainable modes of transport. As a result, Copenhagen is often rated as one of the best places to live in Europe.
4. Chandigarh, India
At the time of the partition of India, the Punjab province was one of the worst affected. As it was divided into India and Pakistan and its capital shifted to the latter, India had to come up with a new capital for Indian Punjab.
After the widespread religious violence of the partition, Chandigarh was envisioned as a truly modern, secular city free from the prejudices of the past, both in character and infrastructure.
Designed by a Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier, the city is divided into various sectors, each the same size and connected to each other via a smooth, intricate road network. It’s also ridiculously green, and the layout of the entire city is modeled after the human body and its golden ratio.
Unlike other major Indian cities – as they get more polluted and crowded than ever before – Chandigarh’s well-planned architecture still works, thanks to regular public maintenance and other government efforts.
3. Washington DC
Back in 1791, when Washington DC was first planned by a French-born architect and city planner, Pierre Charles L’Enfant, it had very few examples around the world to take influence from. Despite that, DC’s urban planning remains one of the best in the world till today, owing to its almost-perfectly symmetrical design and massive green cover.
The city is designed keeping the region’s natural topography as well as the country’s political hierarchy in mind. Where the US Capitol is built on the highest ridge in the region, the White House sits on a slightly lower ridge barely three miles away, and so on.
The US capital is also known for its number of parks and tree-lined avenues, as the entire city is separated into a nearly-symmetrical north-south and east-west grid. While it has upgraded its infrastructure quite a few times since it was first planned in 1791, the core parts of Washington DC have remained the same for more than two centuries now.
2. Brasilia, Brazil
Even if a lot of people still think of Rio de Janeiro as the capital of Brazil, it’s not anymore, as it was moved to the newly-built city of Brasilia in 1960. Planned by Lucio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer, and landscaped by Roberto Burle Marx, Brasilia also happens to be one of the best-planned cities in the world. It’s even on the UNESCO World Heritage List, largely due to its unique modernist architecture.
For one, the entire city is shaped like a giant airplane, probably as an ode to the jet age. It’s also nearly divided into various sectors – like hotel, banking, healthcare etc. – that’re interconnected by an efficient road and highway network. Residential zones in the central part of the city are divided into superquadras – or superblocks – each with their own parks, retail stores and a certain number of schools and healthcare institutions. The city is also full of spacious plazas, parks and other landscaping features, giving its public spaces a sense of openness and breathability.
1. Seoul, South Korea
While cars and other automobiles have been a game-changing invention for humanity, they’ve been disastrous for the environment. Most cities are still built around traffic, and they require consistent clearance of natural habitats to make way for roads, parking, fuel pumps etc.
As countries around the world are starting to deal with the consequences of that, more and more cities are decoupling from their car-centric infrastructure. By far the most successful of them has been Seoul, the capital of South Korea.
While it’s generally a great city to live in, too, it’s Seoul’s public transport network that really puts it on the top of any list of the most well-planned cities in the world. Home to around 10 million people – with twice the population density as New York City – Seoul has taken active steps to remove car-centric infrastructure by developing and integrating its vast public transport network.
Where the Seoul Metro serves over 7 million people everyday, the same pass could be used to hop on to the bus network; an intricate system with over 8,500 color-coded buses serving the various needs of the city’s residents. There’s also water taxi stations along the Hangang River, a small high-speed rail section, and bike stations, as the entire city is built with ramps and dedicated bike lanes.