Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

Bigger images, fewer ads—and a recommitment to telling a very important story.

If you’re a frequent CityLab visitor, you’ll notice that things look different around the neighborhood.

After three years—an eternity in internet time—this site debuts a fresh design today, only its second major facelift since it originally launched (as Atlantic Cities) back in 2011.

A few big things right off the bat: The photos, maps, and images are bigger. The typefaces are new. (That’s Dala Floda on headlines now, font fans.) Our logo is now an attention-demanding traffic-light green. And the site is organized somewhat differently. (More on that later.) We’ve also eliminated one of the more-despised features, based on reader feedback—the advertising that appeared mid-post and interrupted the reading experience. Ads in stories (in desktop layout, at least) will now be limited to the right rail of the page, where they can be fully admired or ignored. You’re welcome.

Overall, the aim of this effort was to make CityLab a more hospitable place for longer, more involving, and more multimedia-laden digital journalism. We’re edging further away from raffish, blog-style content of yore and seeking a cleaner, sharper, more mature vibe. At age six, CityLab is growing up, or at least getting its first job-interview suit.

The fine tailoring comes courtesy David Somerville, the Atlantic’s gifted creative director, and his able team: design fellow Thanh Do, product design lead DJ Brinkerhoff, and CityLab’s own designer, Madison McVeigh. Over the past few months, an elite squad of developers has been laboring away at this project down the hall from our editorial offices. Lead on the project were Josh West and Jeremy Green, along with CityLab developer Ben Harrison, Jason Goldstein, Kevin Mahoney, Chris Davis, Portia Burton, Frankie Dintino, and Joey Nichols. Under the guidance of Clarissa Matthews, the Atlantic’s indispensable director of product management, they’ve torn CityLab down to the studs and hammered it back together again.

Along with the cosmetic improvements in this renovation, you’ll notice some structural changes. We went all Marie Kondo on the homepage, uncluttering the top navigation bar and removing the buttons that no longer sparked joy. There are now five main subject categories, or verticals, rather than the eight that were there previously.

Those five channels are more than just ways to organize our content: They reflect CityLab’s core preoccupations going forward. So let’s explain why we we think they’re so important.

  1. Design: This one’s always been a big chunk of the CityLab’s DNA: We’re obsessed with how cities look, as well as how well they work. Expect more attention to architecture, urban planning, landscape design, and historic preservation, aided now by a site that allows us to showcase bigger and better images in our storytelling.  
  2. Transportation: Never has the science, art, and politics of urban mobility been so fascinating. On-demand car services and bike shares are expanding, autonomous vehicles are creeping onto streets, and hyperloops, drones, and gondolas clamor for our future fares. Who gets the freedom of movement in the 21st century? Who and what is driving these rapid changes? And how will our cities look on the other end?
  3. Environment: The process of reckoning with the globe’s changing climate has begun, and cities are both the nexus of resiliency efforts and the key to preventing environmental catastrophe. This challenge will be the century’s biggest story—even if many of us don’t know it yet.
  4. Equity: For decades, city planning policies produced or exacerbated inequities across race, class, and gender. Here we examine the structural mechanics and political forces behind this reality, while also exploring the various ways cities are working to address problems in housing, policing, education, employment, and more.
  5. Life: Cities are fun, interesting, rewarding places to be—but they’re also challenging, complicated, and often overwhelming. That contradiction is a basic truth of city life, one that informs pop culture, politics, and personal experience. This channel—the successor to the Navigator section—will seek to understand why we’re all here, and what it means to be a native of the urban age.

This is not a politics site. CityLab was founded to explore the problems and solutions that urban areas face, in the U.S. and globally—to better understand why some cities thrive, and others fail. Sometimes that means celebrating the poetry and pleasures of city life, or raging against its challenges. But more often than not, we deal in the pragmatic and the concrete—often literally. Street design? Yup. Zoning? We’re on it. Want to talk about bike lanes and bridges and bus stops? Welcome to our world. The role of ideology and party politics in CityLab’s voice is muted, by design; former New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia’s familiar maxim that “there’s no Republican or Democratic way to pick up the garbage” gets a regular airing around here.

But recent political changes in the U.S., the U.K., Europe, and beyond have made it harder to ignore the role that cities have to play in as actors in a once-in-a-generation political drama. After the November election, the narrative of a “rural uprising” against out-of-touch urban elites took hold, and in the months since, the battle lines have only hardened: Today, urban areas represent an increasingly unified bloc of resistance against a federal government that appears actively hostile to their interests. And throughout the world, the values that cities are often said to embody—cosmopolitanism, tolerance, opportunity, sustainability—are threatened by a diverse cast of foes seeking to undermine them. At the same time, the 21st-century city is serving as an engine of social and economic inequality, a driving force behind the current political divisiveness; that narrative, the topic that consumes CityLab co-founder and contributing editor Richard Florida’s new book, The New Urban Crisis, presents its own grave threats.

The notion that some fundamentals of urban life are under siege has permeated our understanding in recent months, and we can’t pretend that we’re not taking sides. We’re on Team City. And we’ve never been more aware of how high the stakes are. Cities are, as we and many others have often pointed out, the laboratories of democracy—the places that have committed to solving (or, at least, trying not to worsen) the fundamental problems of human co-habitation. That’s the story that CityLab has always told, and we’ll have a lot of work to do.

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