July 27, 2015
Cities to Watch
Ávila There is a reason why medieval rulers built the fortifications that have made Avila a tourist destination today—at more than 3,000 feet above sea level, it is the highest city in Spain. But in spite of this, the mountainous UNESCO World Heritage Site managed to overcome the challenges of its terrain to win […]
There is a reason why medieval rulers built the fortifications that have made Avila a tourist destination today—at more than 3,000 feet above sea level, it is the highest city in Spain. But in spite of this, the mountainous UNESCO World Heritage Site managed to overcome the challenges of its terrain to win the first-ever Access City Award from the European Commission in 2011 for being accessible to people with dis- abilities; all this thanks to an initiative that has been in place since 2002.
The years following a natural disaster can either define or break a city as it tackles the mammoth task of rebuilding. For Christchurch, New Zealand, the recovery process since the 2011 earthquake has enabled the city to embark on a new creative course—perhaps best symbolized by Shigeru Ban’s transitional Cardboard Cathedral, erected in place of the badly damaged Christchurch Cathedral. Focusing its efforts on the River Avon downtown, Christchurch is reemerging as a greener, more compact, and more resilient city.
Projects such as Jean Nouvel’s National Museum of Qatar and Zaha Hadid’s Al Wakrah Stadium represent two new areas of growth for Qatar’s capital. The first is a push for the arts—a recently announced architectural competition will add another 86,000 square feet of waterfront art gallery space to the city’s already flourishing institutions. The second is the FIFA World Cup, which has inspired some useful civic infrastructure for all, including much-needed public transit in the form of the Greater Doha Metro Project.
Forging its own path independent from the capital, Sweden’s second-largest city is actively branding itself as a cultural hub. As the host of one of Scandinavia’s largest cultural festivals, and the Gothenburg International Biennial for Contemporary Art, it is quickly earning global respect. A diverse restaurant scene (and a generally bohemian approach to life), juxtaposed with a respected innovation and sustainability sector driven by the Mistra Urban Futures organization, are helping it become a dynamic global city.
This October, Nigeria’s largest city will once again host its annual Fashion and Design Week. Since 2012, the event has drawn designers from all over the continent, and a popular platform for young talent has launched new careers in an industry that has expanded as the region has prospered. The design world is taking note of lagos’s rapid growth—the task of finding creative solutions for a city with an estimated 21 million people has engaged international architects, including Rem Koolhaas, and David Adjaye, and local talent NLÉ.
It might be known for its casinos and quickie divorces, but Reno, Nevada, is also earning a more respected reputation as a hub for historic preservation. It hasn’t turned its back on its past, however. The focus of its preservation efforts is the repurposing of three particular buildings: the courthouse where people filed for divorce, the post office where they got a mailbox to establish residency, and a residential hotel that was home to many early transitory residents (often women fleeing unhappy marriages).
In the last decade, China’s economic powerhouse has presided over several ambitious programs to make the city actually livable—a trend among other economic zones aiming to resemble the traditional metropoles they originally counterposed. Notable among these are Shenzhen’s sustainability aspirations, summed up in that ambiguous designation, “green city.” Sustainable-minded policies have also had felicitous effects for start-ups, which have found the city more conducive to innovation than Hong Kong.
The birthplace of Skype, Estonia’s capital is a digital hub frequently ranked among the smartest cities in the world —few places can match the red carpet it rolls out to entrepreneurs. Estonia recently began to issue e-residencies that allow foreigners to establish Estonian companies from anywhere in the world, and gain access to more than 4,000 local services. But Tallinn is not all about bits and bytes. In 2013, it made public transit free, increasing transportation accessibility for the city’s poorest residents.
Built on hills—more than 40 of them—at the edge of the Pacific, Chile’s second city is rooted in a vintage cosmopolitanism. With a high walkability score, a lower cost of living, a milder climate, a preserved builtscape, and the ever-present ocean, Valparaíso is an attractive alternative to the nearby capital, Santiago. The Ex Cárcel Parque Cultural, a Pinochet-era prison-turned-art center, is representative of the booming arts scene, while start-ups are beginning to carve out niches in and around the historic cityscape.