From The Vault: Celebrating the Concrete Jungle

7 stories about cities working together to make their communities stronger and greener.

We love our cities – and while it’s easy to point to the negative environmental impacts of urban living, they’re less than half the story. From the 10 best cities for making their inhabitants feel healthy and happy to the subtle influences of city architecture on interior design, we’re fascinated by the impact of this most modern of social inventions, the urban sprawl. Here are seven examples from our archives of the fascinating things that happen when lots of people get together.

Human beings are increasingly an urban global culture. Take Africa: in 1900, less than 5% of this continent’s population lived in urban areas: today, it’s over 35% – and growing by more than 4% a year. Across our blue-green planet, more than 3 billion people cluster together in densely-populated forests of stone, metal and glass. We’ve always had this habit, but it’s only recently that we’ve developed the tools to really go to town.

Turning Cities In On Themselves: the Urban Eco Revolution

We’ve always thought we had roofs covered. They had to be barren, hostile places the rain and the wildlife slid from before they could do any damage. Nature had no place on our roofs. Except…we couldn’t have been more wrong. A green roof may require a little extra engineering behind the scenes, but it’s far better than its non-living counterparts for regulating house temperature, filtering out pollutants, scrubbing the surrounding air, controlling stormwater run-off, absorbing sound and many more factors that impact our quality of life. A green roof is a healthy roof.

17 Living Roofs: The High Tech Green Future of Architecture


Forget the days of mindlessly jumping in a taxi to go from point A to point B. Urban hiking is all about planning, executing and enjoying the journey, another great example of slow travel. According to the Urban Dictionary, urban hiking is “the exploration of diverse urban environments on foot.” Conservation and travel groups alike promote urban hiking, as it not only gets people outdoors and active, but also allows them to explore the ins and outs of urban landscapes.

The City Girl’s Guide to Urban Hiking

In the convenience-drugged city of tomorrow, the only sweat you’ll break is when you’re deciding which button to push. Utopian dream? We say: urban nightmare. We spend our day in the thrall of convenience technology…and then heads straight to the nearest super-expensive gym to compensate. With modern life in full swing, who needs The Onion? Luckily there are architects who recognize the danger and, like Nintendo, are sneaking gyms into our lives without us realising. Their thinking is: why consume electricity when calories can be burnt instead? So the urban fabric gets a healthy makeover, like the much maligned stairwell. Cars are zoned out of existence and replaced with their human-powered counterparts (saving you cash in all sorts of ways). Parks and paths are expanded, and everywhere can be reached by a sidewalk. Healthy commuter, coming through. For specifics, check out the New York City Department of Design + Construction’s Active Design Guidelines.

Where Cities are Taking Us: 10 Urban Eco Trends

Turns out that this urban foraging thing is a bit of a movement. There are groups springing up all over the country – not to be confused withFreegans – a philosophy I support in principal, though you’ll never catch me dumpster diving. I prefer the idea of waste diversion before it hits the dumpster. Portland, Oregon has a network, Santa Fe has a map, LA has Fallen Fruit, San Francisco has a wild foraged food CSA.

The New Hunter Gatherers: Urban Foragers

Honking cars emit foul black clouds, skyscrapers blot out the sun, litter lines the gutters and healthy green space can be hard to come by. But in many of America’s biggest cities, these negative traits are being eclipsed by clean, efficient public transit, bike-friendly infrastructure, multiplying trees, reliance on renewable energy and a fierce pride in locally-produced products. Slashing greenhouse gas emissions and coming close to zero waste is no easy feat for a metropolis with a population of at least 250,000, but these 10 cities – from Boston to San Francisco – prove that sustainability is possible on the largest of scales, in good economic times and bad.

Hard Economic Times Be Damned: 10 U.S. Cities Make Their Own Green

Let’s meditate for a moment on how people really want to live – in aesthetically-pleasing, affordable homes with shared outdoor space, tree-shaded dead-end streets that keep the neighborhood cooler in the summer, save money on infrastructure, eliminate through traffic and create quiet and safe spaces for children to play and neighbors to meet. Spaces for ball games, picnics, gardens, vineyards, and orchards. Beneath the SUVs and strip malls, suburbia has a green heart.

New Urbanism and the Green Heart of Suburbia

Images: Ofer Wolberger for Popular Mechanics; ecogeek; brartist; telmo32bentzaTony the MisfitPear Biter and Mike Behnken.

Mike Sowden

Mike Sowden is a freelance writer based in the north of England, obsessed with travel, storytelling and terrifyingly strong coffee. He has written for online & offline publications including Mashable, Matador Network and the San Francisco Chronicle, and his work has been linked to by Lonely Planet, World Hum and Lifehacker. If all the world is a stage, he keeps tripping over scenery & getting tangled in the curtain - but he's just fine with that.