Published on Sustainable Cities

Three Wise Women Design the Perfect City

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There is no such thing as a free dessert.   At a recent dinner party all guests had to declare a favorite city before the cheese cake and coffee.  With time running out I hastily picked São Paulo (see past blog).  Not at the dinner, but with me during my last visit to São Paulo, Abha, Alexandra and Judy were quick to send comments, questioning my choice of São Paulo and offering thoughts on alternative favorites.

Similar to how Italo Calvino’s ‘Invisible City’ reveals 55 views of cities through a conversation between Kublai Khan and Marco Polo, here with input from the three wise women, and others who responded to the blog, the celebration of cities continues.

Starting in the east, Istanbul offers vibrancy as it straddles two continents, with one foot anchored in the past and the other boldly moving forward, mixing dreams, religions and cultures. Las Ramblas in Barcelona is one of the world’s best walks. Lyon’s City Center is designed for joyful occupancy by the people. Stockholm verges on perfection, at least for a few months of the year. Mexico City deserves mention as the city, larger than most countries, manages scarcity with the legitimate aspirations of millions: So too Jakarta, saving some of the past while scrambling to keep up with the onslaught of today’s future. Singapore shows what can be done when local and national governments are in perfect synch (it helps being one and the same). And then of course this year’s Economist top five livable cities: Melbourne, Vienna, Vancouver, Toronto, and Calgary. Or the top five by ‘spatial adjusted livability index’: Hong Kong, Amsterdam, Osaka, Paris, and Sydney.

Great cities, like great meals, seem to be based on a few quality ingredients.  Lots of good food, especially street food; lots of greenery, and; if possible a bit of blue.  Washington DC comes close with Rock Creek Park, the Potomac, and the Smithsonian’s collection of free museums. Childhood memories and ownership are important too. So too critical services like women feeling safe while walking, or trash being collected. Bhopal, the greenest city in India with two beautiful lakes, walkability, and beautiful historic architecture, comes to mind, as it struggles to grow in size and services.

And three cities in detail, with feeling:

Paris is such an easy city to love.  The wonderful winding streets combined with large impressive boulevards.  The lovely parks, gorgeous views, incredible collections of art, and an endless supply of patisseries.  A favorite street, the Rue Mouffetard, is dotted with shops selling fresh produce, bread, cheese, wine, and all kinds of other food.  Paris is a great city to sit and watch the world go by, with plenty of cafes to do it in.  The metro works and the flea markets have real antiques reminding one of the many past eras of Parisian life. Climbing to the top of Notre Dame or up the steps of Sacre Coeur rewards you with an incredible view.  And the newer additions like the beaches along the Seine and a floating swimming pool add summer fun.  Paris is a great city to visit.

Delhi is an eclectic mix of colors and sounds, of history and future, of tradition and hip; beautiful saris with the twist of modern designers. Men who love to dance - no matter how old! The little street-food stands with delicious snacks. The hidden back street shops that you will only find if someone takes you. The many humming and buzzing markets with fresh produce and tough, but kind market sellers who are always up for a joke. Picnics and free concerts in the park: The grace with which poor people carry themselves and call a shag their home: The many religions, languages and regional cultures that mix and match and try to get along - despite the occasional rumbling: The religious tolerance and the tolerance for poverty - both equally impressive: The festivals, the thousands of mystifying Hindu gods. The cow that won't move - but makes you more patient. The life and the contrasts throughout the city make you feel alive every single moment.

Berlin may be bankrupt, but it is sexy! That's how Berlin's mayor champions the city. Berlin is full of life, constantly re-invents itself as the art, and off-art, center of Europe. Berlin has three big opera houses, hundreds of theatres, thousands of museums and galleries - many world class. Berlin has something for everyone; you can party 24 hours a day at all price ranges - in the latest hot spots or at the corner bar which exists in every district. Berlin has more bridges than Venice; lakes, forest and parks. Bikes are a dominant means of transportation - irrespective of the weather. The public transportation system is one of the best in the world - and yet walking is what many people prefer in this pedestrian friendly city. There is history on every corner - glorious and not so glorious. Take a swim in the historic Olympia stadium or walk up the new glass dome of the Reichstag. You can still move from West to East (and back!) at Checkpoint Charlie: Cathedrals, churches, temples, synagogues - each more beautiful than the other. There are restaurants and bars, cafes and eateries in every district - many outdoors when weather permits, and often serving to Berlin’s proud breakfast culture.

Stayed tuned – We are about to announce a contest to celebrate cities. What do you like best about your city, or maybe someone else’s city? Be ready with a paragraph or two and you could win. Details coming to a city near you.


Dan Hoornweg

Professor and Jeff Boyce Research Chair, University of Ontario Institute of Technology

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