With another year come and gone I thought I would put together a list of the some of the top 10 innovative, quirky and interesting place making or transportation Urbanism experiences from my recent 5 month trip around the world. We at Slow Streets hope you enjoy and find inspiration from this short list and we wish everyone a great new year!
Highest elevation Public Space
At 2,750 meters Sucre, Bolivia is the highest altitude capital city of any country worldwide, that means it also has one of the highest altitude public spaces I had the pleasure of visiting. Placemaking still works the same at high altitudes, people stick to the edges, they can be activated with 10 activities. Seating and a sense of enclosure are also important design considerations.
Most Unconventional Public Spaces
The cemetery in Sucre, Bolivia gets a second mention on this list as it would have to be one of the most interesting publics spaces that I have seen. With benches, trees and shade, and unique awnings for the burial plots of those that have long since shuffled off this mortal coil, Sucre’s cemetery has become a popular hangout for groups of youth dressed in school uniforms.
While I have witnessed many great markets (look forward to a future piece analyzing the elements that make many of these markets great), London’s Columbia Road flower market is one that stood out. Packed into a skinny street flanked with fine grain retail developments of Columbia Road, with the burliest English men belting out “Clematis for a fiver” make this an exciting experience with plenty to do.
Chiang Mai’s Sunday Night Walking Street is also an exhilarating experience that occurs every weekend nestled right in the urban fabric between human scaled, fine grain developments extending for what seems forever. This market offers a plethora of interesting foods, musicians, people watching, and stimulation of all 5 senses.
Coolest Medieval City
Cesky Krumlov is a small 700 year old Czech town of 14,000 people that maintains its fascinating fine grain organic development complete with a winding river and a castle.
Best Repurposing of Existing Buildings
Amsterdam definitely demonstrates some of the strongest leadership in recognizing the value of existing buildings as a low hanging fruit to retrofit and reduce the carbon footprint. Heritage buildings were built to last and offer great community value in the quality of construction.
Widest (and windiest) bike lane
The Tempelhofer Park in Berlin was a decommissioned airport that was converted into a park. As part of the park, the city maintained the runways which earns itself recognition as one of the widest (and windiest) bike lane. It can be quite windy at the park, that you can cruise along the entire length on a bike without pedaling.
Best Transit Experience
In the efforts to address the dramatic urbanization patterns in developing cities, Medellin took a different approach by trying to legitimize unofficial developments occurring at the city fringes as quickly as possibly to avoid exacerbating the issue. As part of this solution it includes bringing transit out to their far flung neighbourhoods. Incidentally Medellin has created a phenomenally successful transit system with high capacity and frequencies that seamlessly integrates a cost effective gondola system that can navigate the steep valleys with a high tech elevated LRT system.
The other greatest transit system that deserves a mention is Berlin’s U-Bahn. This is a beast of an elevated and underground rail system with 170 stations and 1,390,000 daily trips. While those of us in transit planning talk about high frequency transfer based transit systems, the U-Bahn is one the best transfer based rail systems that I have used, effortlessly opening up seamless access to all corners of the city with 5 min frequency for most of the day. One element of the system that the U-Bahn gets right that most systems overlook, is high quality place making at the rail stations (also look forward to another Slow Streets piece on this).
Best Countryside Protected Cycling Experience
Cycling through pristine limestone karst formations, rice paddies, ancient temples, incrementally developed towns and separated cycling lanes make for an extraordinary countryside cycling experience in Ninh Binh.
Coolest Community Initiative
Berlin gets a third mention in this list for its Wasserschlacht, a food fight that occurs between the communities on either side of the Oberbaumbrücke bridge (which is also incidentally one of my favourite bridges). The food fight is a great way to inject a bit of fun into our cities and life. The loser has to clean up the Oberbaumbrücke bridge. The Neon rock paper scissor signs add a nice placemaking touch.
One of the strangest and interesting attractions I have witnessed is a hot tub elevated 50 meters up a retrofitted crane in Amsterdam Noord.