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.

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