19 Ingredients of Great Cities

by | Nov 11, 2020 | Thoughts | 0 comments

The greatest, most enjoyable cities are built for people, not for cars.

Here are 19 of the key ingredients that promote human-friendly, enjoyable cities:

1. Small blocks (200’ by 200’ is very nice)

2. Dense, but human scale buildings (3 – 6 stories)

3. A variety of building types (both in terms of age and style)

4. Mixed uses in the same area and/or the same block

5. Narrow streets

6. Carless streets

7. Retail uses on the ground floor

8. Lots of outdoor cafe seating (natural extension of #7, combined with smart permitting)

9. A robust, dynamic and growing local economy with lots of jobs and a tight labor market

10. Big trees and well-designed green spaces and other open spaces (i.e. plazas)

11. Good lighting ("good" doesn’t always mean bright!)

12. Multiple transit options – bus, rail, scooters, bike, car sharing, good sidewalks

13. Street art and murals

14. Connection to the city’s natural areas and views (i.e. people should be able to access the rivers, forests, hill tops, etc. Sadly all too often these natural amenities are hard to access due to car-centric infrastructure and/or privatization).

15. Minimal surface parking lots, and never in front of buildings

16. Affordable housing throughout the city*

17. Bike sharing and scooter sharing programs

18. Dedicated bike-only lanes and "highways"

19. And last, but definitely not least, no freeways!

What other elements make a city great in your opinion?

*When it comes to creating interesting and flourishing cities, investing in affordable housing is super high leverage for many reasons. A few examples: Better housing affordability allows people to live closer to their jobs, which decreases commute times and congestion for not only the individual, but for everyone. Additionally, housing affordability allows artists, musicians, recent immigrants, and young people to sprinkle themselves throughout the city. These groups of people are more likely than average to start interesting local businesses, boost the local art scene, hang out in parks, contribute to the gastronomic culture, and generally enliven and reinvent the city.

From top to bottom:
1. Quebec City, Canada
2. Portland, Oregon
3. Venice, Italy


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