The Top 15 Cities Stories Of 2012

As more people decide to live in cities, urban centers are innovating in how they provide services to their citizens. This year also showed us that even when cities seem like fortresses, nature can have other ideas.

It used to be, you lived in a city until you had kids, at which point you moved to the suburbs. That still happens often enough, but things are changing: Between July 1, 2010, and July 1, 2011, 27 of the 51 largest metro areas in the U.S. grew faster than their suburban counterparts (metro areas do include places outside central cities). It’s far too early to announce the death of the suburb, but the trends towards city living are hard to ignore. By 2050, 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas.


This year, we’ve seen some growing trends heat up: the rise of the smart city (however you want to define “smart”), an increasing number of “urban interventions” (elements of urban play inserted into the landscape), and debate over how we can ensure cities of the future will remain livable.

Thanks to Hurricane Sandy–the mega-storm that took the entire Eastern Seaboard by surprise–we’ve also seen the dialogue about resilient cities grow. How can we protect populous cities from the effects of sea level rise? Will cities eventually have to abandon the most vulnerable areas and move residents inland? We’ll find out soon enough.

1: The Top 10 Smartest Cities In North America

Which cities are pushing the envelope of technology, sustainability, and better living conditions?

2: What’s Really Happening In Blacked-Out Manhattan

During Hurricane Sandy, the lights went out for a quarter of a million people in Lower Manhattan, and things were getting dangerous. But cell phones and social media enabled an entirely self-organized recovery effort that showed up where FEMA, the Red Cross, and the city did not.


3: Will Cities Of The Future Be Filled With Vertical Slums?

After a skyscraper in Caracas was abandoned, it quickly became home to 750 families. As cities develop, will slums build up instead of out?

4: Gorgeous Photographs Show Contrasting Views Of Detroit’s Present–And Future

Two photo projects–by photographers Andrew Moore and Camilo José Vergara–show the urban ruin of the Detroit we all imagine, but also the spirit of reinvention of the people who actually live there.

5: The Top 10 Smartest European Cities

Which city in Europe is working the hardest to be the most advanced urban landscape?


6: In China, New Sustainable Cities Are Rising From Nothing

China is planning a building explosion of dense, sustainable suburbs, connected to its megacities by public transit. Can these “prototype cities” alter the course of the country’s unsustainable development?

7: The New SimCity Will Turn You Into An Urban Planning Nut

The newest version of the classic city building game is introducing complex models about things like energy, health care, and transportation. But you can still destroy your city with an asteroid.

8: Prototyping The Urban Environment With Garden Urinals And Staircase Slides

The city as it exists doesn’t have to be the city we live in. These crazy projects could reinvent the urban landscape–and make it a little more fun.


9: Occupy Avondale: Turning a Down-And-Out Alabama Neighborhood Into A Thriving Destination

What does it take to transform a neighborhood? Replace crime with local business. That’s what REV Birmingham and the Avondale Brewing company did in Birmingham, Alabama, and it’s working beautifully.

10: Can Architects Create A New Neighborhood Of Skyscrapers In New York?

Hudson Yards, a series of buildings to be built over the rail yards on Manhattan’s West Side, will add a new neighborhood with the population of downtown Detroit to the Big Apple. How do you create a city within a city?

11: A Prefab Vertical Gym For Urban Slums

Gyms provide activities that keep kids off the street. But in the sprawling slums of the developing world, where do you find the space to put one? This new architectural marvel stacks all the amenities you could want.


12: Low-Income Housing That Anyone Would Love To Live In

Housing for the poor doesn’t need to be horrible. The Richardson apartments in San Francisco are offering up high-class digs in the hopes of helping to lift its residents out of poverty.

13: How Can New York Prepare For The Next Hurricane Sandy?

Plans call for constructing movable barriers in the ocean to stop the storm surge, but Bloomberg is skeptical. When the next storm comes, will the city be ready?

14: 5 Outside-The-Box Ideas To Change U.S. Cities For The Better

The Mayor’s Challenge is a contest run by Bloomberg Philanthropies to find the best ideas bubbling out of our cities–from data mining to turning foreclosed houses into urban farms.


15: Removing Streets Is The Only Way To Reclaim Open Space In Cities

Can London build on the momentum of its Olympic building to do something truly radical to its urban planning? Take a major road and replace it with a park.

More 2012 roundups:

Architecture, cities, clean tech, collaborative consumption, design, education, energy, environment, food, health, infographics, photography, responsible business, and transportation.

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.