Looking back on our series about the people and ideas changing cities around the world.
Stand-up comedy in Singapore, pollution-eating islands in Seattle, a hip Providence library, and Boomers who love cohousing: These are just a few of the topics we've covered in City Makers since the series began in September. Over five months and more than 70 articles, CityLab writers uncovered stories of urban change and advocacy that are new, surprising, and almost mind-bogglingly diverse. Thank you for following along and sharing your thoughts.
The series intentionally cast a wide net. We wanted stories from cities around the world, touching on every aspect of urban life: housing, public safety, architecture and design, transportation, and the economy (just for starters). We wanted to profile innovators from all corners of the globe and walks of life, especially those we're liable to overlook. A great example is Patricia Herrera, who brought water and new jobs to the Manila slum where she lives.
Or take Chad Houser, whom we might overlook for a different reason. Houser, an acclaimed chef in the high-end Dallas restaurant scene, might not be someone you'd expect to devote himself to improving the lives of young non-violent offenders. But with Café Momentum, his new restaurant that trains these young people in restaurant-industry skills (while paying them a living wage), he's developed a model for rehabilitation that seems ripe for other cities to emulate.
It would be too hard to choose my favorite stories because there are so many excellent ones. But if you'd like to revisit some City Makers greatest hits, or are just now discovering the series and wondering where to begin, here are some highlights:
Don't call them bureaucrats. We profiled a number of government officials who are making a tangible difference and defying the b-word label: a tourism czar promoting walkability in the Dominican Republic; a car-share champion in Bremen, Germany; and the planner streamlining L.A.'s unwieldy zoning code, to name a few.
Out-there, but practical, tech advances. These projects are novel and may seem downright weird to some, but hold real potential for the future: the ELF, the water-cleansing floating island, and Jackson, Wyoming's new vertical farm.
Waste not, want not. The series ended with three stories on waste. Two of them are about literal garbage: the painted garbage trucks of Valparaiso, Chile (a city with a stubborn trash problem), and the artist-in-residence program at the San Francisco city dump. The third is about blight in Gary, Indiana, which the city's mayor wants to halt using a data-based demolition strategy.
It was a coincidence that these stories ran back to back, but a fitting end for City Makers. Leaders in Valparaiso have hit on a low-cost way to make citizens more aware of trash collection. The San Francisco program supplies local artists with free materials while underscoring just how much city residents throw out every day. And in Gary, targeted deconstruction (followed by reuse of building materials) will be key to rethinking the future of a city that has shrunk and changed dramatically.
Finding a new approach or deft solution even in what a city gets rid of—could there be a better kind of innovation than that?