The Top 17 Cities Stories Of 2013

From rising income inequality to Detroit’s historic bankruptcy, cities struggled this year. But from stress also comes resilience and innovation.

For many urban residents, their city is a source of identity and pride. But 2013 has been a rough year for many cities and their denizens. In New York, San Francisco, and other urban centers, income inequality–the gap between the richest and poorest residents–is on the rise as the costs of living soar while wages and job growth stagnate. And Detroit, a city in decline for decades, was forced to take the unprecedented step (for a city of its size) of filing for bankruptcy in July.


Yet from bad situations are often exactly where good ideas and innovation spring. Detroit, for example, has become a hub of experimentation in everything from urban farming to creative photography to entrepreneurship. And we’ve seen a steady flow of impressive ideas on how to create a more sustainable and affordable life for all of a city’s residents. Innovative low-cost construction methods could make housing easier and cheaper to build, while a 600-foot-tall city on wheels that can move around when resources dry up was one of the wackier proposals.

Another trend we’ve seen is the continued rise of the “megacity,” a city with more than 10 million inhabitants. By 2050, 7 out of every 10 people on Earth is projected to live in a city, and many will horde to dense urban hubs from Dubai to Mumbai. The U.S.’s urban centers may matter less and less in the future.

Read many of the stories below (and check out last year’s list, too) to learn about how cities are improving and re-imagining themselves every day. Or maybe we should just all move to Barcelona, the happiest city in the world.


1: The 10 Happiest Cities In The World

What makes these cities’ residents happier than anywhere else? Rio De Janeiro and Sydney top the list.

2: Beautifully Mashed-Up Photos Show The Glory and Wreckage of Detroit


The Detroit “Now and Then” project artfully combined vintage photos of the city with images of what’s there now, providing a poignant reminder of what the city was, what it is now and–maybe–what it could be again.

3: “Portraitlandia”: Photos Of Portland’s Most Portland-y Residents

If Portlandia were a photo series, it would probably look something like Kirk Crippens’s “Portraitlandia,” which features iconic Rose City residents in their natural habitats.


4: The 10 Smartest Cities In North America

Which cities are doing the most to become the sustainable, connected, innovative city of the future? Seattle tops this list. (You can also see the top 10 smartest European cities here).

5: Using The New Sim City, 6 Urban Planners Battle For Bragging Rights


We brought together some of the most interesting urban thinkers to play the new version of the city planning game to see who would make the best fake metropolis. But building a sustainable city from the ground up is harder than it looks.

6: A 600-Foot-Tall City On Wheels, For When It’s Time To Get Away From It All

Cities are so…static. The Very Large Structure will let an urban population just roll down the road if commerce or resources dry up.


7: Look At The World’s Greatest Skylines Without Any Lights On

In Darkened Cities, the lights from these famous metropolises have been removed, giving you a glimpse at what a city would look like without the power of electricity.

8: Eerie Photos Show The Strange Emptiness Of Dubai


You can build a shiny modern metropolis out of nothing, but how do you create the bustle of a city?

9: The Insane Growth Of China’s And India’s Megacities Mapped Through Satellite Imagery

These charts–made with information from weather satellites scanning the ground–show how wide and how tall cities around the world have grown. What’s happening to the size of cities in Asia will blow your mind.


10: The 10 Fastest Growing Megacities In The World

As the world’s population rapidly moves into urban areas, the world’s largest cities are growing explosively–and almost all that growth is happening in the developing world.

11: The Apple City That Could Have Been


Before Apple began work on its massive new headquarters, one architect took it upon himself to design an alternative for Steve Jobs: a walkable, livable city anchored by the company’s offices.

12: The Rise Of The Instant Metropolis

The new book, A History of Future Cities, looks at the attempts of places like Dubai, Shanghai, and Mumbai to create Western-looking areas in an attempt to create a sense of modernity.


13: This Graphic Lets You Ride The Rollercoaster Subway Of New York’s Income Inequality

Tracking the income at each subway stop paints a picture of a city of economic extremes, all connected by public transportation.

14: Cities Of The Future, Built By Drones, Bacteria, And 3-D Printers


As scientists make huge strides in robotics, natural building materials, and new construction methods, our urban architecture could take on a much different form than the rigid construction we’re used to.

15: 100 Ideas To Improve New York City’s Subway

Because every public transportation station could use some skylights and odor detectors.


16: Detroit Is Planting The World’s Largest Urban Farm

Almost 1,500 vacant lots in Detroit are about to get a bucolic makeover.

17: Re-Envisioning The Manhattan Skyline To Reflect The City’s Jarring Income Inequality

Manhattan has one of the worst income gaps of any city–or country–in the world, often separated by just a few blocks. These striking graphics make that inequality apparent in the height of the city’s buildings.

Read more of our best stories of the year in these categories: Top stories, infographics, photography, maps, buildings, design, cities, food, transportation, innovative workplaces, bikes, collaborative consumption, energy, crowdfunding, robots, environment, health, education


About the author

Jessica Leber is a staff editor and writer for Fast Company's Co.Exist. Previously, she was a business reporter for MIT’s Technology Review and an environmental reporter at ClimateWire


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