Mark Byrnes is a senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
A survey of light rail aesthetics from around the world.
With shrinking government budgets and transit usage on the rise, the above-ground streetcar (or tram) is making a comeback. Beyond their efficiency (not to mention their affordability compared to subway expansions), streetcars add a visual charm to any city, no matter the make or model or even the location it serves.
Still, in many ways, the type of rail car a city employs can say a lot about the place. Some of the older ones can suggest a city's affinity for it's history (Milan) or perhaps its lower budget (Poznan). New ones can suggest a city's growing density levels (Seattle and San Diego) or just its attempts to modernize (Athens and Lisbon).
The diversity of cityscapes as well as an equally diverse set of streetcar designs ended up making for a more interesting tour than expected. Below is a sampling of some well-known and barely known streetcar models we came across: