Making Cities Better is a 5-Step Learning Curve

What does it take for cities to become better?

Editor's Note: Former chief city planner for the Canadian city of Vancouver, British Columbia, Brent Toderian advises cities on advanced urbanism, city planning and urban design. For Fast Company, he wrote about the path civic leaders take to improve cities.

One of the most common questions I get asked is “what are the best cities in the world?” I have a few different answers, but I usually look to shift the conversation to a question I think is more interesting: Which cities out there are doing remarkable things to get much better right now?

Since most of my work around the world advising cities on what I call “advanced urbanism” is in its simplest sense about helping cities get better, inspiring examples of recent successful urban change can be worth their weight in gold. On the other hand, cities that have been great for a really long time can ironically be less helpful as examples, as they can be too easy for cynics to write off. How often have you heard this one: “Come on, [insert great city here] has always been like that! We could never be like [insert great city here]!”

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Plus, let’s be honest: Great cities can easily rest on their laurels, coasting on smart decisions made decades or even hundreds of years ago. Think New York before Mayor Bloomberg, or Paris before Mayors Delanoë and Hidalgo. Or maybe your own city comes to mind. But the cities out there that are currently doing bold, creative things to get better -- whether they’re currently great or not -- those are inspiring, and hard for any city to ignore.

Toderian says the learning curve comprises the following steps:

  • Step 1: Doing the Wrong Things
  • Step 2: Doing the Wrong Things “Better”
  • Step 3: Trying to Have Your Cake and Eat It, Too
  • Step 4: Doing the Right Things Badly
  • Step 5: Doing the Right Things Well

Read about the steps on Fast Company's Medium.

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