Many cities started as villages, usually springing up around a body of water or along a trade route, eventually growing into the sprawling metropolises they are today. Many of these cities evolved without careful planning. Some governing bodies, however, worked hard to strike an appealing balance of accessible public space, efficient transportation, innovative architecture and welcoming residential areas. These are six of the most well-planned cities in the world.
Lucio Costa was the visionary master planner behind Brasilia. Shaped like an airplane with carefully planned civic, administrative, recreational and residential zones, Brasilia offers the best possible orientation with the least number of intersections.
Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, Brasilia lies more than 700 miles from Rio de Janeiro, the former capital, at an elevation of about 3,500 feet. Notable features include architect Oscar Niemeyer’s grand-scale, modernistic white buildings. One axis curves from the north to the southwest and links the residential neighborhoods. The intersecting axis runs northwest to southeast and contains the civic, recreational and administrative zones. Commercial and banking sectors lie at the intersection.
Head across the Atlantic and over Africa to northern India and you’ll find another well-planned city in the Shivalik mountain foothills, Chandigarh. Instead of an airplane-shaped layout, Chandigarh is laid out more like a human body, designed primarily by renowned French architect Le Corbusier. Other city planners and contributors included Maxwell Fry, Jane Drew and Pierre Jeanneret. The capital complex makes up the “head,” the commercial center the “heart” and the academic and recreational areas the “arms.” Each sector boasts a well-connected shopping area and a park, with greenbelts separating residential and industrial areas, all using Le Corbusier’s principles of greenery, space and light.
If you visit, be sure to see the extensive rose garden and a unique rock garden containing numerous statues created from broken objects. Situated along the artificial Sukhna Lake, Chandigarh was selected to become the capital of the states Punjab and Haryana shortly after Punjab was split into two parts in 1947.
Singapore City, Singapore
Singapore City, renowned for being slum-free and having an outstanding waste management policy, has been carefully designed since its formation when the British began colonizing the area in 1819. Sir Stamford Raffles of the English East India Company landed on the tip of the Malay Peninsula while searching for a trading site and bought the land that later became Singapore.
To reduce congestion, Singapore’s commercial hubs were decentralized, and the city has been developed into four living zones: North, South, East and West, with a newer North–East zone under development. Each zone is partially self-sufficient and contains ample man-made green space. This strategically located port is Southeast Asia’s largest — and the world’s busiest port. Singapore continually tops various lists for having the world’s largest and most incredible, innovative buildings.
Seoul, South Korea
Head almost 3,000 miles northeast from Singapore to find another well-designed city, Seoul, South Korea. Seoul is strategically located along the navigable Han River in the center of the Korean Peninsula with easy access to the Yellow Sea. Originally built following principles of feng shui with a proper balance between streams and mountains, Seoul’s first modern master plan was conceived in 1966.
One of Seoul’s most distinguishing features is a well-planned transportation network that boasts various modes including subways, buses and railways, which ensures fast, easy and safe commuting. Like other well-planned cities, Seoul offers separate commercial, residential and recreational zones. Another unique feature is an extensive greenbelt that surrounds the city center. It was created in the 1970s and prevented further expansion within the city limits. Four major gates provide access to neighborhoods outside the main city. You’ll find modern architecture alongside traditional Korean structures in this cultural, economic, political and transportation hub for northeast Asia.
You’ll want a bike to get around Denmark’s capital city, Copenhagen — nearly 40 percent of residents ride bicycles daily on well-planned bike routes around the city. You can also get around Copenhagen easily using its comprehensive network of subways, railways, buses and water-buses, plus its pedestrian-friendly walking routes. Following a “Five-Finger Plan” developed by Christian Bredsdorff and Steen Eiler Rasmussen in 1947, the city layout resembles a hand with the city center as the “palm.”
You’ll see Copenhagen topping many lists for being an environmentally friendly city — it plans to be carbon neutral by 2025, relying on wind power, waste incineration, biomass fuel and other alternative energies. City planners also focus on creating playgrounds, gathering spaces and green areas. City regulations state that the maximum space between residences and green areas must be 300 meters (almost 1,000 feet), which results in pockets of greenery everywhere. Brightly colored historic buildings perched over canals and waterways add an element of European charm to this otherwise modern city.
Washington, D.C., U.S.A.
You’ll find no shortage of traffic jams in America’s capital, but believe it or not, Washington, D.C., was actually a carefully designed city! Washington was not the nation’s original capital — that honor goes to New York and later Philadelphia — but the Founding Fathers strategically chose this area because of its central location. Southern states feared northern states would have too much power if the capital, along with major banking and commercial interests, were all located in the north.
President George Washington chose this site situated between the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers and appointed Major Pierre Charles L’ Enfant to design a bold, modern city in 1791. L’ Enfant envisioned grand boulevards laid out in grids with the Capitol building at its center and ceremonial spaces reminiscent of his native city, Paris, France. Various wars caused destruction and the city fell into disarray in subsequent years. In 1901, the city set out to fully complete L’ Enfant’s plan and expanded the National Mall.
To easily get around the nation’s capital, skip the car and use the extensive public transportation systems — the Metrorail, Metrobus and the DC Circulator, a free bus. Walking and biking are other good options for getting around.