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3p Weekend: 10 Cities On the Cutting Edge

Mary Mazzoni headshotWords by Mary Mazzoni
Leadership & Transparency
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With a busy week behind you and the weekend within reach, there’s no shame in taking things a bit easy on Friday afternoon. With this in mind, every Friday TriplePundit will give you a fun, easy read on a topic you care about. So, take a break from those endless email threads, and spend five minutes catching up on the latest trends in sustainability and business.

While we've been busy predicting trends for 2015, major cities around the world are already making it happen. This week we tip our hats to 10 cities hard at work building the urban centers of tomorrow. The future is now.

1. Milan


Milan is host to the 2015 World Expo, running from May 1 through Oct. 31 in the north Italian city. Planned highlights include the Future Food District, a space to learn about how technology is affecting the global food chain, the New York Times reported earlier this month, when it named Milan the No. 1 place to visit in 2015.

If that's not enough, the city is also testing out a new way to cure smog and urban gridlock: Every commuter who leaves their car at home will receive a free public transport voucher, Fast Company reports. An Internet-connected box on participants' dashboards keeps track of the car's location to make sure no one cheats. We've been exploring the benefit of free public transit programs for some time, so we'll definitely have our eyes on this one.

2. Madrid


Speaking of ditching cars for your daily commute, Spain's capital is taking things a step further: It plans to ban cars in its city center starting this year, TheCityFix Brasil reports. (Check out an English translation of the story here on SmartCitiesCollective.)

The measure is part of the city’s sustainable mobility plan, which is projected to reduce the share of daily trips by private vehicles from 29 percent to 23 percent by 2020, according to the report.

3. Philadelphia


I may be slightly biased here, as I've spent most of my life in the Philadelphia area. But consider this: The New York Times named Philly the No. 3 place to visit in 2015, and mostly because of a laundry list of sustainability upgrades.

The city has been slowly transforming once-dilapidated sections into hubs of outdoor urban activity. After revitalizing the Race Street Pier in 2011, giving residents open access to the Delaware River waterfront, the city doubled-down last year with the addition of the Spruce Street Harbor Park (complete with a bi-level public walking path, as well as hammocks, lanterns and a floating bar).

Philly also used its City Hall renovation project as a chance to add more green space. Nearby Dilworth Park -- which was once little more than an eyesore, as I can personally attest -- has a brand new look, with pedestrian-friendly spaces and an outdoor skating rink. The city is also set to (finally) add a bike-share program this year.

4. Medellín, Colombia


Colombia's second-largest city earned the No. 11 spot on the New York Times' 52 Places to Go in 2015 list for its attention-grabbing urban renewal efforts.

"Many of the once legendary slums have been transformed through some astonishing architectural gems, like the Biblioteca España, a hyper-modern public library and community space in the low-income Santo Domingo neighborhood," the Times reported. The city has also added new art exhibitions and green space, and the paper called its Metrocables (aerial gondolas) and 1,300 feet of outdoor escalators, which connect poorer hillside neighborhoods with the city center, "global milestones in smart public transit."

5. Paris


Paris made headlines last year when it briefly banned cars with even-numbered plates due to elevated pollution levels. The temporary ban reduced pollution by around 30 percent. Now, Paris is considering permanently discouraging cars to improve air quality and overall livability in the city, reports Fast Company.

Car use is already restricted in the city center on weekends, and this rule may soon span out into the week. By 2020, the mayor plans to double the number of bike lanes in the city, ban diesel cars, and limit certain high-traffic streets to electric cars and other ultra-low-emission vehicles, Fast Company reports. Vehicle ownership has been steadily declining in the City of Lights, where only 40 percent of residents own a car.

6. Helsinki


Like most cities around the world, Helsinki expects a population surge in coming years -- but that doesn't mean carbon emissions will increase. After the United Nations climate talks in Lima last year, local government went on record saying that it may be up to big cities to curb emissions.

With a new mobility plan, the city will "transform car-dependent suburbs into dense, walkable communities linked to the city center by fast-moving public transit," reports Fast Company. The city is also testing a new app that lets residents find nearby public transit or instantly call up a shared bike, car or taxi.

The city also depends on renewable energy for much of its public transit: "Up to 49 percent of public transportation trips in Helsinki are completely CO2-free. The city's goal is that 30 percent of buses will use green energy by 2025," Irma Karjalainen, a director of Helsinki's environmental services authority, told Chinese news agency Xinhuanet.

7. Chicago


Chicago is known for its frigid winters, but hearty residents don't let that keep them down. More than 2.6 million trips have been taken via the city's bike-share program, Divvy, which began in mid-2013. While the company that originally operated the program was sold in October, the new owner, Bikeshare Holdings, said the transition won't affect Divvy's operations. The program plans to add 175 stations and 1,750 bikes next spring, reports the Chicago Tribune.

Additionally, this year the city will see some of its forgotten corners turned into public green space. After breaking ground last fall, the city aims to enhance the downtown area of the North Harbor District by adding a flower garden, ornamental lighting, seating, green space and a stage area, local news agencies report. The new lakefront space will also be home to public art installations, and it is expected to be completed by May, with additional green space planned for this year.

8. Bangkok


Bangkok is famous for its skyscrapers, but the city has been busy quietly adding green space over the past few years to encourage pedestrianism and outdoor enjoyment. The city has added 953 acres of green space since 2013, with a plan to add around 570 acres more by 2016.

The city now provides 5.46 square meters (or about 59 square feet) of green space per person -- well below major American cities like New York and Chicago, but a vast improvement over recent years. The city hopes to bring that figure up to 62 square feet in 2015.

9. Hamburg, Germany


Just last week, Germany's second largest city unveiled a plan that is seriously cool: It's using green space to solve noise problems in residential areas stemming from the Autobahn thoroughfare.

Three public parks will cover the Autobahn highway that passes through Hamburg's city center, buffering noise, reducing air pollution and unifying the downtown, reports the Romanian science and tech publication ZMEScience.

10. Rio de Janeiro


Rio de Janeiro was one of three Brazilian cities to be awarded the 2015 Sustainable Transportation Award (along with Belo Horizonte and São Paulo), the CityFix reported last week. Organized by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, the award recognizes cities for their achievements improving urban mobility.

Rio beat out finalists such as Helsinki, Milan and Cape Town, South Africa, to win the prize, thanks to its rapid deployment of public transport options. The city's bus network now has nearly 60 miles of dedicated routes. Once completed, the network will also feature the TransOlímpica and TransBrasil train, which will carry about one million people.

The city aims to provide more than 60 percent of the population with access to a complete network of public transport, from bus to rail systems (not to mention 280 miles of bike paths), by the time the Olympic Games kick off next year, the CityFix reported.

Primary image: William Warby; Milan: Bert Kaufmann; Madrid: Miguel Diaz; Philadelphia: Norman Maddeaux; Medellín, Colombia: Jorge Láscar; Paris: Tommie Hansen; Chicago: Alan Stark; Helsinki: Miguel Virkkunen Carvalho; Bangkok: Jon Collier; Hamburg, Germany: Flickr user trombone65; Rio de Janeiro: Laszlo Ilyes

Mary Mazzoni is the Senior Editor of TriplePundit. You can follow her on Twitter @mary_mazzoni

Mary Mazzoni headshotMary Mazzoni

Mary Mazzoni, Senior Editor, has written for TriplePundit since 2013. She is also Managing Editor of CR Magazine and the Editor of 3p’s Sponsored Series. Mazzoni’s recent work can be found in Conscious CompanyAlterNet and VICE’s Motherboard. She is based in Philadelphia.

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