10 of the Best Urban Projects in the World

Article by Erisa Nesimi – Total reading time 5 minutes

We take a close look at 10 of the Best Urban Projects in the World.

I’ve always been fond of observing and studying the quality of spaces and how these spaces are brought together into one large entity: the city. In his book “Rebel Cities,” David Harvey says, “In making the city, the man makes himself” and “what kind of city we want cannot be divorced from the question of what kind of people we want to be.”
So instead of raising the question of what are some of the best urban projects in the world, I’m asking, what did the cities in this article want to be?

In urban projects, it is interesting to note that there are always several circumstances to be considered. There is never a tabula rasa, which makes the process so much more interesting.

Best Urban Projects in the World

1. A Design Built on the Past — Offenbacher Hafen

Reconstructed from a polluted industrial port, this ecologically sensitive riverfront in Frankfurt is an example to follow. Former industrial sites are often considered the black holes of our cities — places where nobody goes. This project incorporates the city’s history and brings character into the newly developed area. It represents the reinvention of a lost connection with the city.

Offenbacher-Hafen-(Offenbach-Harbor)

Offenbacher Hafen. Image credit: Atelier Dreiseitl.

2. Strong Connection to the Natural Landscape — Landgrab City Urban Farm

Various urban designs include landscape as part of their projects, but this case in Shenzhen, Hong Kong takes the usage of landscape to a whole other level. A community urban farm in the middle of a metropolis challenges the way we perceive our cities. The fact that the farm is also in proportion to the number of inhabitants of the city acts as a reminder of the amount of land needed to feed them, and also helps to revive the agriculture.

Landgrab City copyright : Shenzhen Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture Organizing Committee

Landgrab City copyright : Shenzhen Biennale of UrbanismArchitecture Organizing Committee

3. Economically Viable — Tel Aviv Port

We have to always remember that cost is rather important. Designs need to meet the economic possibilities in order to be built. Israel’s Tel Aviv Port, being extremely simple, meets not only the users’ demands, but also the economic ones. The wood paving, the connectivity to other parts of the city, the lighting elements for nighttime use, and the feeling of infinite space create a simple place for everyone.

Tel Aviv Port. Photo credit: Mario Troiani

Tel Aviv Port. Photo credit: Mario Troiani

4. Where Space Becomes a Place — Klyde Warren Park

The great philosopher Heidegger once said that “the places make it possible for a space to exist, and the distinguished character of the places is gathering and being together.” Klyde Warren Park in Dallas, Texas is a great example of this. An urban park constructed over an existing freeway, it has immediately been welcomed by the people because it offers a variety of activities and amenities, such as a children’s park with water features, the reading room, the restaurant, and the event lawn.

Klyde Warren Park. Photo credit: Thomas McConnell

Klyde Warren Park. Photo credit: Thomas McConnell

5. The Element of Surprise — Madrid Rio project

Urban designs that have the power to amaze me each time I see them are particularly attractive. A great design has the power to surprise you again and again. This is the case with the Madrid Rio design, a huge project in terms of scale, but very contextual in each and every minor part of it. Pedestrian bridges, parks, pine trees, hierarchy of spaces, and a variety of altitudes are just some of the diverse experiences this design offers. And while the scale is rather big, the designers have thought of particular details that make these spaces wonderful no matter how many times you’ve visited them.

Rio Madrid by West 8. © Municipality Madrid

Rio Madrid by West 8. © Municipality Madrid

6. Mix and Match — A’beckett Urban Square

Great thinkers such as Jane Jacobs have always stated that in order to have great neighborhoods, there has to be a mixture of spaces, atmospheres, and cultures. A‘beckett Urban Square in Melbourne, Australia provides just that. Transforming a vacant site into a vibrant spot, this urban design has brought stamina to the neighborhood. A variety of facilities and activities brings together a diversity of people who interact with one another. The fact that most of the urban furniture is demountable creates opportunities for flexibility and makes the space even more user-friendly.

A’beckett Urban Square. Above: Before image, courtesy of Peter Elliott Pty Ltd Architecture + Urban Design. Below: After image (Not at the same angle as above image) Photo credit: John Gollings

A’beckett Urban Square. Above: Before image, courtesy of Peter Elliott Pty Ltd Architecture + Urban Design. Below: After image (Not at the same angle as above image) Photo credit: John Gollings

7. Focus on the People, Not Cars – Place La République

Paris has recently become the leading city in promoting user-friendly spaces. In this project, we will have a look at how one of the most key and special places in the city was transformed into a wonderful space. With very few interventions and with strong attention to detail, this space is now a people’s place — a great square that offers Parisians and tourists increased opportunities for activity and enjoying life.

Place de la République

Place de la République before and after. Above photo credit: ©AIR IMAGES. Below photo credit: ©TVK-Myluckypixel

8. Environmentally Conscious — ChonGae Canal

Urban freeways have been shown to be a failed experiment of urban planning. Placing these structures in our cities has not helped in reducing vehicular traffic, but has created environmental degradation and a threat to residents. So, what can be done? Landscape comes to the rescue. The ChonGae Canal in central Seoul, Korea is an excellent example. One of my favorite urban projects, it entirely transformed an urban highway into a vibrant pedestrian area. Not only did it create a space for the people, but it brought back the beauty and values of the existing water canal.

Urban Freeway Removal_The ChonGae Canal. Photo credit Taeoh Kim

Urban Freeway Removal_The ChonGae Canal. Photo credit Taeoh Kim

9. Equitable and Inclusive — Mariahilferstrasse,Vienna

Mariahilferstrasse has been shown to be one of the best examples of how an urban design can be inclusive. From a space that left no room for pedestrians, it became a place that includes both vehicles and people in a common area of shared space. The users of the area contributed to the design process by giving and sharing ideas. Adding to the comprehensive character this design has, a website was introduced regarding the development: www.dialog-mariahilferstrasse.at.

Both Vienna residents and tourists I’ve met refer to it as the spirit of Vienna — a wonderful place to be, full of vibrancy and people coming from a mixture of cultures.

Mariahilferstrasse. Credit: Bureau B+B

Mariahilferstrasse. Credit: Bureau B+B

10. Smart Cities: What About Happiness? – Brighton, United Kingdom

“Smart city” has become a buzzword nowadays, but Gehl Architects show us how the most important thing is creating happy cities. What are happy cities, you might wonder? They are cities where people want to live, cities that offer possibilities for happiness to each of their residents. This project in Brighton has created a shared space that satisfies the needs and desires of all people living in and using this space. As my colleague Taylor Stapleton also stated in her article, studies conducted by the City Council and Gehl Architects showed that “86 percent of the citizens of Brighton would like to see more areas like this within the city.

New Road, Brighton, design by Gehl Architects.

New Road, Brighton, design by Gehl Architects. © Gehl Architects

While these 10 projects are great examples of urban landscape architecture, we have to bear in mind the fact that no one solution fits all. Context is extremely important and must always be considered. Urban projects are developed for a particular place; thus, they should meet the necessities coming from their particular background. Human-centered design should be the new buzzword.

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