Three cities that tackle modern civic problems successfully

Take a look at how city planners have found ways to manage 21st-century urban obstacles in these three cities.

With the rising global population showing no sign of decline, city planners the world over must approach the challenge of urban organisation and civic expansion with tightening limitations. While many of the megacities of the world are already examples of outstanding architecture and public transit systems, here are three lesser-known examples of cities that take on their own set of challenges quite well, starting with South America. 

Medellín, Columbia, uplifts its impoverished areas with proper infrastructure

This South American city has poured considerable funds into improving the architecture of its poorer districts, increasing its accessibility and metropolitan potential with large escalators and walkway networks.

Comuna 13 is a residential area that was built on the tricky landscape of a sloped hill. The steepness made vehicular access almost impossible, leaving its neighbourhoods isolated and difficult to navigate.

A solution was built in 2011 at the hands of architect Carlos Escobar in the form of a massive 384-metre orange-roofed automated walkway that divides the mountain into six zones. The area now enjoys a stronger flow of pedestrians and commerce.

Perhaps the most important outcome is that the simple escalator system has been credited with restoring peace to an area that had been mired by gang activity and violence before, as Escobar explained to CNN the union of classes that has occurred:

Nobody trusted that this project would be possible. Before, this area was under the control of gangs," he said. "Right now, this area [has] become a neutral zone. The control is in the community's hands.

"It is really beautiful because [since] the construction, we [have] never heard anything about violence in this place. It has increased the pride of the community," he said.

Houston, Texas, expands its affordable housing with a beneficial policy

While the world’s most successful cities such as London, Tokyo and New York continue to grow economically, their design has an inherent flaw: too many citizens are finding it impossible to afford living there. These cities have among the highest real estate prices in the world and only the financial elite can find accommodation there.

However, Houston, Texas has shown remarkable growth (from 2010 to 2014, the city’s population rose with more than 140,000 people) without having to inflate the cost of median real estate and the city planners are looking to expand housing for middle-class families even further.

According to Joel Kotkin - executive director of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism in Houston who spoke to the Wall Street Journal - the city has “shown a capacity to grow without the kind of massive real-estate inflation that makes settling into places like New York, San Francisco, Boston, as well as London, all but impossible for middle-class families.”

Multiple variables have been credited for Houston’s working-class-friendly real estate market – the most salient of which is the absence of conventional ‘zoning’.

Zoning puts parameters on the way land may be used within certain jurisdictions, but Houston operates without it which has enabled developers to fast-track new architecture projects. Though prices do rise initially (as improved small family houses replace older ones), the speedy influx of housing developments in Houston’s market allows city planners to match the demand of growing populations.

Tim Cisneros, an architect native to Houston, reinforces that zoning can paralyze architectural development and that removing it “actually does give the developer and design communities the ability to do things unlike anywhere else.”

Singapore, Southeast Asia, manages its limited water access for maximum use

Singapore is an island city-state that combats its problem of water resources by harnessing rainwater, seawater and wastewater in every way that it can.

Huge ‘supertree’ sculptures collect rain (and solar power) that is diverted to water treatment facilities where it is purified for consumption. About 60 per cent of Singapore’s land surface is also raised to channel rainwater on the ground to treatment facilities that turn it flushing water for bathrooms. Even Singapore’s Changi Airport is designed to capture rainwater on its runways which is used to nurture its indoor plants and surrounding landscaping.

The island also has one of the world’s most elaborate wastewater recycling systems. Singapore has four disinfectant plants that cleanse used water which is then utilised in air conditioning and cooling systems to aid the city’s industrial factories. Two massive desalination factories along Singapore’s coast purifies water that is drawn from the ocean and provides approximately 100 million gallons of water daily, which amounts to about a quarter of the city’s total water demand.