Cities With the Best Beautification Projects

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The 2020 Legend Awards are meant to serve as inspiration for future travel—when it is safe to do so. Learn more about this year's awards on our methodology page.

If you could hop on a private jet tomorrow and spend a week abroad, would you choose to go to a place you’ve never been, or to one of your favorite cities? One school of thought amongst frequent travelers is that you shouldn’t bother visiting the same place twice—because there’s always a new destination waiting to be explored. And while that’s a perfectly valid approach to travel, we think there are few things more rewarding than returning to our favorite cities to see how they continue to evolve. 

The Los Angeles of today is a far cry from what the City of Angels looked like in the late 1960s—for proof, just refer to the Once Upon a Time in Hollywood set pieces. New Delhi is unrecognizable from the city it was 20 years ago. And even the cities intent on retaining their historic architecture—from the classic Haussmann buildings lining the streets of Paris to the Renaissance accents of Florence—are ever-changing. 

And that’s because cities are inherently adaptable, which we have seen more than ever over the last few months. This year, we wanted to honor the eco-friendly cities whose willingness to adapt has positively impacted their community and their skyline. The Legend Awards honorees for cities with the best beautification projects are finding innovative architectural solutions to accommodate growing populations—all while shrinking their carbon footprint. These are the city beautification projects we’ve been most impressed by this year: 

Copenhagen, Denmark


White rkitekter 

The capital city of Denmark is working toward becoming carbon neutral by 2025. A city that’s always been committed to passing laws that encourage public health, one of their more recent initiatives is “green roofs,” wherein Copenhagen mandated that all new (flat) roofs have to feature vegetation. This will contribute to not only reducing air pollution but move Copenhagen toward becoming carbon neutral within the next five years.  

Oslo, Norway


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Named the European Green Capital for 2019, Oslo is a city leading by example when it comes to reducing fossil fuel emissions. More than half of their public transport journeys are powered by renewable energy, thanks to Oslo’s zero-emission metro vehicles, and indeed, many of Oslo’s city buses (and garbage trucks) are powered by “biogas” produced from the city’s sewage and bio-waste. One of the biggest reasons Oslo took the 2019 title of European Green Capital is the rehabilitation of the city’s waterways; Oslo has re-opened 3,000-meters of rivers and streams in the city, making them public gathering points while also helping manage the stormwater collecting in the city.

Kigali, Rwanda


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The Rwandan population is expected to double by 2050, which puts affordable and sustainable housing top of mind. A Global Health Corps fellowship, in partnership with MASS Design Group, is investing in young (millennial-aged) architects focused on sustainable, affordable, and aesthetically pleasing housing concepts. MASS is working toward opening an architecture and design center to train new architecture talent in Africa. For a sense of what these up-and-coming architects can create, travelers need only look at the high-concept design most recently taking Kigali by storm, from a sustainable cricket stadium and clubhouse to a housing development for health-care workers, wrapped entirely in eucalyptus screens.

Los Angeles, California


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The plight of the Los Angeles metro is a tale as old as, well, Los Angeles itself. There are varying theories as to why LA doesn’t have a more New York City-level metro, each as unfounded as the next. However, Los Angeles is making an ongoing push to expand metro lines (there are four lines currently in progress), which is not only reducing car usage and carbon emissions, but will also create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the process. LA Metro is also creating communities around the metro lines; from direct access points at luxe hubs like the Platform in Culver City and the Santa Monica Pier, to facing the LA housing crisis head-on, with 12,200 new units built from 2005 to 2018, 35% of which are earmarked for affordable housing. 

Skellefteå, Sweden 


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Aiming to have 25% of their buildings redone in wood by 2020, Skelleftea is moving toward wooden buildings because they are ultimately safer than the concrete and metal buildings that dominate the northern Swedish city. The wooden rebuilding project creates jobs, tax advantages, and reduces carbon emissions significantly. In the heart of Skelleftea sits their most impressive wooden feat; They started building Kulturhus in 2018 to be the tallest wooden building in the world. It will be completed by 2021 and will feature an upscale hotel, sky bar, and women’s art museum. And to those who worry that utilizing wood to this degree reduces the plant population in the city, fear not; Swedish national law mandates that for every tree cut down, two must be planted. 

Milan, Italy


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A development in western Milan, about a mile and a half from the Duomo, City Life Milan has been an ongoing beautification initiative since 2014. The brainchild of noted architects Zaha Hadid, Arata Isozaki, and Daniel Libeskind, it’s comprised of three commercial towers, residential units, and public spaces, including the biggest pedestrian area in Milan. 

New York,  New York


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At the northwestern edge of the High Line, Hudson Yards is home to phenomenal displays of architecture, from the Vessel to the Shed, and 14 acres of pedestrian space. The newest edition to Hudson Yards is Edge, a NYC observation deck experience with the “highest outdoor skydeck in the Western Hemisphere," and a restaurant called Peak, launched on March 11.

Tokyo, Japan


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Despite the postponement of the Tokyo Olympics, the city deserves recognition for the New National Stadium in Shinjuku, which sits opposite the brand-new Japanese Olympic Museum. The two new structures have transformed this central Tokyo neighborhood, with the goal of drawing not just Olympics-goers to the area for the games, but tourists to visit the museum and stadium for years to come. The areas of Tokyo that will see the most pedestrian traffic during the Olympics are the Heritage Zone, in central and western Tokyo, and the Bay Zone, on the water. The New National Stadium and Japanese Olympic Museum fall in the heart of the city, near the upscale neighborhoods of Ginza and Omotesando, in the Heritage Zone.

Houston, Texas


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Houston’s Bayou Greenways 2020 initiative has successfully joined nine of the city’s bayous, adding no fewer than 150 miles of hiking and biking trails. The pièce de résistance is the Houston Botanic Garden, which will highlight the city's biodiversity while raising environmental awareness. The project was inspired by Arthur Comey, a Houston urban planner, who in 1912, articulated the goal of uniting Houston’s bayous. And thanks to the Bayou Greenways project, 60% of Houstonians now have parkland within a mile and a half of their homes.