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The Evolution of Urban Planning

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Urban planning has been around for as long as cities have existed, but the 20th century saw a number of bold ideas that radically changed the make-up of our urban centers.

From garden cities to psychogeography, today’s infographic by Konstantin von der Schulenburg is an informative overview of the modern movements and ideas that shaped urban planning.

The Evolution of Urban Planning

The Evolution of Urban Planning

Urban planning has changed a lot over the centuries. Early city layouts revolved around key elements such as prominent buildings (e.g. cathedrals, monuments) and fortification (e.g. city walls, castles).

As cities grew larger, they also became more unpleasant. Here are some key ideas from architects and planners who sought tame the unruly urban beast.

Garden City

At the dawn of the 20th century, cities were experiencing big population growth.

The Garden City concept – devised by the English planner Ebenezer Howard – sought to solve urban overcrowding and poor quality of life by creating smaller, master-planned communities on the outskirts of the larger city. The city would be structured around concentric circles of land use and include a sizeable park and greenbelt. Greenbelts were a revolutionary idea at the time and are still widely appreciated to this day.

garden city concept

Setback Principle

Early 1900s Manhattan had a population density of nearly 600 people per hectare and the skyscraper boom was in full swing. As buildings grew taller, the already crowded city was becoming a dark and claustrophobic place. To combat this, New York enacted the first citywide zoning code ever in the U.S. to help preserve some daylight on city streets. Setbacks had an immediate and lasting impact on Manhattan’s skyline, as seen today in landmarks such as the Empire State and Chrysler buildings.

Broadacre City

If there is a true antithesis for today’s urbanism, then the suburban brainchild of Frank Lloyd Wright is surely it. Broadacre City was a thought experiment that envisioned decentralized communities that would sprawl across a lush, bucolic landscape. That vision stood in stark contrast to frenetic, exhaust-choked cities of the 1940s, which resembled “fibrous tumor(s)” according to Wright.

Though Broadacre City was never built verbatim, Wright’s rejection of the American city came to life in the form of suburbs and strip malls from sea to shining sea.

La Cité Radieuse

In the wake of World War II, France was searching for solutions to house its population – nearly 20% of all French buildings were either destroyed or seriously damaged – and world renowned architect, Le Corbusier, was one of the architects selected by the French government to construct new, high-density housing.

When La Cité Radieuse (Radiant City) was completed in 1952, it kicked off a media frenzy. Indeed, Le Corbusier is credited with pioneering the Modernist style of architecture that became wildly popular around the world during that time.

While Le Corbusier’s thoughtful residential buildings have stood the test of time, not all projects inspired by the style shared the same fate. For example, when governments in Europe and the United States looked to provide cheap, high-density housing to low income families, the stark tower blocks they built often had the unintentional effect of ghettoizing their inhabitants.

The Megaregion

As cities within close proximity grow and merge together, finding a way to make them work as a connected economic and social unit is a key strategy for becoming more competitive on the global stage.

Jean Gottman, a French geographer, recognized this megaregion trend early on in the Northeast region of the United States. His seminal 1961 study, Megalopolis: The Urbanized Northeastern Seaboard of the United States, outlined the extraordinary dynamics that shaped America’s largest urban corridor.

The Transect

In North America, many cities have a stark divide between urban and suburban areas – a gap known as “the missing middle”. New urbanists seek to create more dense residential development, particularly in walkable, transit-accessible areas.

missing middle

This new form of city planning isn’t just cosmetic, it may help save cities from bloated infrastructure costs. Recent research into the tax efficiency (property tax revenues vs. infrastructure maintenance costs) of a variety of American cities and found that walkable urban districts tended to be revenue-positive – in effect, subsidizing surrounding low-density areas.

tax efficiency lafayette

Next Stop: Smart Cities

In the era of big data, the future of our physical spaces may be defined more by bytes than bricks.

City governments have been collecting big picture data for planning in transportation and zoning for some time, but new technology allows for the capture of even more granular data. Cities can now measure everything from noise pollution to wastewater volume, and this can have a big impact on spending efficiency and overall quality of urban spaces.

It’s almost like a FitBit for the city.

– Stuart Cowan, chief scientist, Smart Cities Council

A prominent section of waterfront in Toronto, Canada, is about to become a testing ground for this concept. The partnership between a government agency and Sidewalk Labs, a division of Alphabet, will produce an urban district that fully integrates technology and data collection into its design.

If the project is successful, it may influence the way future “smart” neighborhoods are constructed.

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Cities

Ranked: The Cities with the Most Skyscrapers in 2023

We rank the world’s leading cities with the most skyscrapers, highlighting China’s remarkable dominance in building vertically.

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Ranked: The Cities with the Most Skyscrapers in 2023

When it comes to soaring skylines and architectural marvels, no country has embraced the vertical revolution quite like China.

In this graphic, which uses data from the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), we reveal the 25 cities with the most skyscrapers and supertall buildings globally.

Unsurprisingly, China’s cities dominate the list, solidifying the country’s reputation as a global powerhouse of tall buildings.

The 25 Top Cities by Skyscraper Count

Topping the charts is Hong Kong, with an impressive 657 skyscrapers, including six supertalls (buildings over 300 meters tall).

RankCityCountrySkyscrapers (>150m)Supertalls (>300m)
1Hong Kong🇨🇳 China6576
2Shenzhen🇨🇳 China51316
3New York City🇺🇸 United States42116
4Dubai🇦🇪 United Arab Emirates39528
5Guangzhou🇨🇳 China25411
6Shanghai🇨🇳 China2505
7Kuala Lumpur🇲🇾 Malaysia2115
8Chongqing🇨🇳 China2055
9Tokyo🇯🇵 Japan2000
10Wuhan🇨🇳 China1835
11Chicago🇺🇸 United States1787
12Jakarta🇮🇩 Indonesia1601
13Chengdu🇨🇳 China1500
14Bangkok🇹🇭 Thailand1333
15Shenyang🇨🇳 China1293
16Singapore🇸🇬 Singapore1280
17Nanning🇨🇳 China1226
18Mumbai🇮🇳 India1140
19Tianjin🇨🇳 China1093
20Nanjing🇨🇳 China1087
21Toronto🇨🇦 Canada1060
22Busan🇰🇷 South Korea1064
23Seoul🇰🇷 South Korea1042
24Changsha🇨🇳 China975
25Melbourne🇦🇺 Australia941

Hong Kong, along with Shenzhen (#2), and Guangzhou (#5) are part of the burgeoning megacity known as the Pearl River Delta, which is home to over 1,500 skyscrapers. This is even more impressive when considering that Shenzhen was a small fishing village until the 1970s.

New York City secures the third position on the list, boasting an impressive tally of 421 skyscrapers. Although it may have relinquished its title to Chinese cities, the city’s skyline endures as a globally renowned symbol, prominently featuring the iconic Empire State Building. Notably, while the Empire State Building enjoys widespread familiarity, it no longer ranks among the world’s 50 tallest structures.

Rounding out the top five is Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, which grabs the fourth position with 395 skyscrapers, a staggering 28 of which are supertalls. This desert oasis has become synonymous with grandiose architecture and record-breaking structures, exemplified by the Burj Khalifa, which is the world’s current tallest building at 828 meters (2,715 ft).

China’s Numbers in Context

Looking at this data from another perspective, China actually has more skyscrapers on this list than the rest of the world combined.

CountryCities in Top 25SkyscrapersSupertalls
🇨🇳 China12277772
🌐 Rest of World13235067

China’s rapid urbanization, economic growth, and ambitious construction projects have fueled this impressive feat. There’s no doubt that the country’s relentless pursuit of vertical development, coupled with its booming population and thriving cities, has positioned China as the unrivaled leader in the global skyscraper race.

The Future of the Global Skyline

As the world continues to reach new heights in architectural marvels, there are even more supertall skyscrapers in the pipeline that will reshape skylines across the globe.

From the soaring Jeddah Tower in Saudi Arabia, poised to surpass the Burj Khalifa as the world’s tallest building, to the remarkable Merdeka 118 in Kuala Lumpur, which is set to claim the title of the world’s second-tallest structure when it opens in June 2023, these projects will captivate city dwellers for years to come.

Even as these new monumental buildings rise, China’s prominence in the world of skyscrapers—with three cities in the top five globally—is likely to remain unchallenged.

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