Singapore supertrees
Singapore supertrees

In a WSJ article, more than a dozen experts were asked what cities they think are worth watching now to find out what urban-development policies and experiments currently hold the most promise.

Instead of choosing the most obvious world megacities, such as New York City, Tokyo, Jakarta, or Shanghai, they decided on cities a tier or two lower in size. They all agreed that they were still far away from perfect, but they were doing some great things in some urban­ development policies and experiments.

Which five cities did they pick and what did they find specially innovative about them?


What is remarkable about Singapore is how it manages its severely limited resources, a situation that cities around the globe will be facing more often. Singapore is “a city innovating under constraint,” says Edward Glaeser, a professor of economics at Harvard University. “You have a limited amount of land—you have to make sure you’re not wasting it.”

For traffic, Singapore is pioneer in congestion pricing, charging drivers who venture into the central business district during rush hour. A quota system restricts the number of new registered vehicles. Now the city wants to go even further by adjusting tolls depending on traffic and the time of day by having satellite calculate exact driving distances.

Another scarce resource for Singapore is water: Two desalination plants can produce about 100 million gallons a day from seawater, about a quarter of the city’s needs. Rainwater is also collected in smart ways. Two­ thirds of the land surface funnels rainwater to be treated for drinking or for flushing toilets. Changi Airport collects rainfall from runways to water plants.

Detroit, Michigan

Detroit is emerging from its ashes. After bankruptcy in 2014, money needs to be used judiciously for revitalizing its poorest areas. For this they are trying radical solutions. In areas where normal development doesn’t work, red tape will be reduced, encouraging smaller developers and entrepreneurs and reviving aging commercial strips. With a $75,000 grant from the Knight Foundation, the City Planning Department wants to create a general framework for anyone who wants to start a new business or build in those areas. The city is ripe for lean urbanism, a style of urban planning that aims to reduce the regulatory tangle that can hinder new business, designing walkable neighborhoods with a mix of housing, jobs and retail.


Houston has managed well with the lack of zoning. Rapid redevelopment of abandoned areas has been achieved by removing obstacles for developers. The result has been rapid growth without rapid inflation of real estate, making it still affordable for newcomers.

Vancouver, Canada: Walking for health

Walking is not only the best transportation option in the city, it is also the healthiest. Vancouver wants to make health the top transportation priority. Pedestrians are given priority in road design. One example of this is its pedestrian-controlled traffic signals on busy streets.

Vancouver’s zoning rules also encourage density by placing everything within walking distance. Vancouver is ranked fifth by Walk Score, a unit of Redfin, which measures the walkability of more than 140 North American cities.

Medellín, Colombia: Infrastructure for Inclusion

Medellín has located some of its most innovative projects in the poorest and previously crime ridden neighborhoods. It has the most innovative outdoor escalators project in the world. Some are a 400 meters high, and pass through several plazas along the way. However amazing the projects, the most innovative part of this infrastructure is the result. By building first in marginal areas, Medellin has brought transportation equity to previously isolated poor neighborhoods with some surprising results. It has succeeded at reducing crime and promoting upward mobility and a sense of pride shared by all equally that protects and engages its citizens.

Singapore is remarkable because of how it manages its scarce resources. Photo by Güldem Üstüm / Flickr