Ten Urban Success Stories From 2021

Still battling a global pandemic and its widespread economic and social effects, cities nevertheless made progress in some unexpected ways.

2 minute read

December 31, 2021, 5:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Walkable Street

Marques / Shutterstock

Despite the challenges posed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, writes Linda Poon, cities around the world managed to succeed in some innovative ways during 2021. Poon describes ten positive urban developments that led to "transformative — and in some cases unprecedented — changes toward improving residents’ health, safety and overall livability."

Some examples include:

  • Glass panels that provide natural air flow and temperature regulation, such as those installed at Uber's Mission Bay headquarters. According to Poon, "the design addresses two of today’s most urgent crises: the pandemic and climate change" through better ventilation and reduced energy use for temperature control.
  • The "one-minute city," a concept inspired by the "15-minute city." Rather than focusing on access to nearby amenities, this concept seeks to give residents control over the public realm just outside their homes.
  • Affordable, accessible water vending machines installed in Nairobi, Kenya, where people living in informal settlements often lack access to clean water.
  • A planned autonomous city in Japan. Toyota's Woven City, currently under construction at the base of Mount Fuji, will be a testing ground for autonomous transport and high-tech urban amenities.
  • Criminal justice reforms. In the wake of high-profile police killings and calls for reform, cities have launched initiatives that divert calls about behavioral incidents to social workers in an effort to reduce the chances of fatal interactions with law enforcement.

Other promising programs mentioned in the article are universal basic mobility initiatives, Bogota's efforts to make childcare more accessible, and the trend of cities hiring "heat officers" as climate change leads to more extreme weather and more destructive wildfires.

Sunday, December 26, 2021 in Bloomberg CityLab

Red on white 'Room for Rent, Inquire Inside' sign

In Most U.S. Cities, Archaic Laws Limit Roommate Living

Critics argue laws preventing unrelated adults from living in the same home fail to understand the modern American household.

May 24, 2023 - The Atlantic

Vancouver Chuck Wolfe

Ten Signs of a Resurgent Downtown

In GeekWire, Chuck Wolfe continues his exploration of a holistic and practical approach to post-pandemic urban center recovery, anchored in local context and community-driven initiatives that promote livability, safety, and sustainability.

May 24, 2023 - GeekWire

New York MTA subway station

Off-Peak is the New On-Peak

Public transit systems in major U.S. cities are starting to focus on non-rush hour travelers as pre-pandemic commuting patterns shift and transportation needs change.

May 19, 2023 - Curbed

Nighttime view of Tacoma, Washington skyline

Tacoma Coalition Calls for ‘Tenants’ Bill of Rights’

The group wants to put more power in the hands of tenants, but the city has its own, competing proposal for addressing the housing crisis.

May 26 - The Urbanist

Wind turbines sillhouetted against a sunset sky along roadway in New Mexico

New Power Transmission Line Approved in the Southwest

The proposed transmission line will transfer wind-produced power from New Mexico to cities in Arizona and California.

May 26 - U.S. News And World Report

Aerial view of 238 freeway in Oakland, California cutting through neighborhood with small houses

The Limitations of ‘Reconnecting Communities’

The Biden administration has pledged to correct the damage imposed on communities by highways and infrastructure, but many projects are only committing to minor improvements, not transformative changes.

May 26 - The New York Times

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.