We dig cities: big ones, small ones, historical ones, quirky ones. We’re always up for visiting a new place and getting to know its heartbeat, and we especially love learning how cities are improving life for residents.
From transportation to farming projects and safety initiatives to play spaces, innovative programs in cities around the world are saving money, reducing waste, and making everyday moments more inspiring. Here are seven of the coolest projects we’ve read about recently:
- In Trikala, Greece, the wheels on the bus go ‘round—without drivers.
Last year, this Greek town of 80,000 attracted global attention when it became a real-world laboratory for driverless buses. Google and other companies have tested unmanned vehicles on closed courses and low-traffic roads, but Trikala’s program is the first driverless transport system running right through a bustling downtown. It uses GPS and a laser mapping system to navigate a 1.5-mile route.
- Los Angeles lights up the night a little bit differently.
By replacing over 140,000 existing streetlight fixtures with LED units, Los Angeles is reducing energy use by 63 percent and carbon emissions by 47,583 metric tons per year. Residents say it’s easier to see the stars at night. Plus, the new lights make for some breathtaking aerial photos.
- Augsburg, Germany, is looking out for those who don’t.
To prevent injuries caused by smartphone users who don’t look up to glance both ways before crossing the street, Augsburg installed in-ground lights that tell pedestrians whether it’s safe or unsafe to cross. The measure may sound unnecessary, but it could save lives. Just two months before the installation, a 15-year-old girl was hit and killed by a tram while she was texting in the middle of a roadway.
- Adults get their own playgrounds in San Francisco.
Ten Living Innovation Zones (nicknamed “LIZ”) invite San Francisco’s tech-loving population to get outside and play. Geared for adults, these playgrounds boast various feats of engineering, from parabolic acoustic amplifiers (which allow people standing 50 feet apart to hear each other’s whispers) to the MIT-designed “Musical Bench” (which uses the electrical charges in people’s skin to compose music).
- Amsterdam, Netherlands, will have the world’s first bike mayor.
The post is only semi-official, but CycleSpace, an Amsterdam-based bicycle advocacy group, is accepting applications for the position. The setting is fitting. After all, Amsterdam launched the world’s first bike share all the way back in 1965, paving the way for similar programs in other cities. CycleSpace hopes the bike mayor movement catches on, too. The organization has plans to appoint one each in 25 other cities, including Beijing, São Paulo, Chicago, Cape Town, and Warsaw.
- A neighborhood in Mannheim, Germany, is going car-free.
Walk the streets in the Funari housing project, and you won’t see anything on four wheels. This new, mixed-income development at the site of a former U.S. Army barracks doesn’t allow vehicles. Instead, it features a network of walkable paths connecting to gardens and parks. Residents who own cars can park underground, but since Funari is next to a train stop, it’s easy to go completely carless.
- Anywhere can be a garden in Tokyo, Japan.
With a population of 13.2 million, Tokyo is the world’s largest city, but it imports 80 percent of its food. So a number of organizations are finding ways to grow food in any space they can—from plot shares to rooftop honeybee hives and hydroponic gardens in the walls and ceilings of office buildings. It’s a great use of spaces and resources. Plus, it provides fresh produce to city-dwellers.
We’re amazed by these cities’ innovative thinkers, and we’re eager to see which of these projects catch on elsewhere. Who knows? Maybe someday soon, we’ll all be riding driverless buses or forgoing cars altogether.