Moscow’s Crystal Island
Photograph: Foster + Partners

10 huge building projects that’ll change our cities for ever

From urban forests to next-gen transportation, these super-cool developments will shape the future of urban life

Huw Oliver

Cities are great precisely because they change – constantly. Dazzling new buildings pop up seemingly overnight, old ones crumble. Sometimes whole areas are knocked down, only to be replaced (often controversially) by sparkling new developments. And then there’s perhaps the defining urban trend of the past 50 years, the sprawl: the tendency for metropolises to spread further and further out to the extent ‘suburb’ and ‘city limits’ cease to have any real meaning.

So how are the world’s greatest cities likely to change between now and 2030? Well, they’re certainly going to get bigger – taller too. But many are also going to get a heck of a lot greener. Cities may be powerhouse polluters, but they’re the places where the world’s best brains are busy saving the planet. So the big developments of the next ten years include plenty of anti-car measures, ‘urban forests’ galore, and loads and loads of solar panels.

Already, it’s happening: if you take a look at building sites around the world, there are all sorts of trailblazing towers, developments and urban forests currently under construction. The best will make our cities cleaner, greener, healthier and more beautiful places to live. Here are ten of the biggest, most impressive urban developments that could change the world’s skylines by 2030.

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Major urban developments transforming the world’s cities

Paris’s game-changing green makeover

If there’s one thing Paris isn’t, it’s green. The streets are lined with tarmac, concrete, and lots and lots of limestone, and even the parks tend towards gravel rather than trees. Soon, however, the city centre could look a heck of a lot more rustic.

For starters, the city is planting four new ‘urban forests’ right next to major landmarks. By 2026, the mayor has also pledged to plant more than 170,000 trees across Paris, with 50 percent of the city covered by planted areas by 2030.

Many of the best aspects of lockdown life in Paris – there were some, promise – could also be made permanent: the 50km of temporary bike lanes, for example, and the iconic Rue de Rivoli going car-free. The grey, dusty, polluted Paris we all know may well soon be a thing of the past, and that’s very much a good thing.

L.A.’s futuristic hillside gondolas

No single solution will ‘solve’ L.A.’s endless traffic woes, but the city is currently looking to the sky for some creative alternatives. Yes, we’re talking about a gondola – two of them, actually.

Earlier this year, an ‘Aerial Transit Study’ set out four potential routes for shuttling tourists from a parking lot in the Valley to a perch near the Hollywood Sign in mere minutes. There are similar plans afoot for a route that could whisk locals and visitors alike all the way from Union Station to Dodger Stadium. Gee whizz, indeed.

More cool plans and ideas shaping the future of L.A.


Tokyo’s AI-powered ‘smart city’

You thought Toyota just made cars? Well, they’re thinking a little bigger these days.

In recent years the Japanese company has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in artificial technology for both cars and robots, some of which will be used at the Tokyo Olympics next year. Now it’s thinking properly massive – and planning to build a whole new ‘smart city’ – called Woven City – near the base of Mount Fuji, just outside Tokyo.

AI will be used to facilitate pretty much everything you can imagine here: restocking the fridge, taking out rubbish, even conducting health checks. To start with, 2,000 Toyota employees and their families are expected to the move to the city to test out the ‘automated’ home systems.

It sure does sound a lot like the plot to a dystopian sci-fi film – so let’s just hope these robots are very much of the benign kind.

London’s sprawling new cultural quarter

The London Olympics may feel like a long time ago now, but the London Legacy Development Corporation is still attempting to carry on the much-hyped Olympic legacy.

Its latest move is building a so-called ‘Cultural and Education District’ on the former Olympic Park site in the east of the city. There will be a new outpost of the V&A museum, a 550-seater venue for dance company Sadler’s Wells, a new university campus and a residential development.

East London – like many places outside London’s commercial centre – is still lighter on major cultural venues than we’d like. Putting aside ongoing delays and budgeting problems, this should be just the ticket.


Seoul’s pollution-tackling ‘wind path’ forests

The South Korean capital should feel quite a bit cooler in the years to come. The city has just started planting a series of ‘wind path’ forests that aim to improve the circulation of clean air in the centre – and ultimately help cut temperatures in Seoul city centre by up to 7C in summer.

A series of pine and maple forests are being planted along rivers and roads, creating ‘paths’ that funnel clean, cool air down from Gwanaksan Mountain and Bukhansan Mountain, down to the centre. Oaks and wild cherry trees are also being planted to help purify the air by absorbing particulate matter (including various pollutants).

On top of all their environmental benefits, we’re certain all these woods will be thoroughly lovely places to just chill and hang out, too.

Sydney’s slick new airport city

Sydney and Parramatta are set to get a flashy new sister city over the coming decades. An all-new urban area, dubbed ‘Aerotropolis’, is currently being built 60km to the west of Sydney city centre, close to the new Western Sydney International airport (also under construction).

Aiming to be Australia’s ‘next global gateway’, the 11,000-hectare Aerotopolis will be connected to the airport and Central Sydney by rail as early as 2026, though the city is not expected to be totally finished for at least 15 years.

Once it is done, it’ll feature ‘commercial, agricultural, industrial and residential sectors’, and, it’s hoped, attract more than 12 million visitors a year. Sounds like serious competition for Australia’s largest city.

Meanwhile, Sydney is also working on the world’s tallest hybrid timber building


Moscow’s mammoth Crystal Island

Soaring out of the earth like a mystical ice kingdom, Moscow’s proposed Crystal Island would be a superstructure like no other. With 2.5 million square metres of floor space, this Norman Foster-designed showpiece is currently set to be the world’s biggest building. And thanks to a tent-like outer structure, it would also be one of the most environmentally friendly.

This so-called ‘second skin’ would act as a thermal buffer reducing heat loss during the rough Russian winter, and allow natural cooling through the summer. Wind turbines and solar panels would also adorn the outside, providing energy for the offices, homes, shops and cultural venues housed inside.

The project has been in the works for more than a decade now and is still seeking more financial backing before construction can begin. No doubt it will take a similarly glacial amount of time to actually build – but for such a brilliantly OTT monument, it’ll surely be worth it.

Dubai’s latest record-breaking skyscraper

Come on, Dubai. This is getting unfair now. Not only is the city currently home to the world’s tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, it’s also part-way through constructing the world’s tallest tower  – the difference apparently being that a tower isn’t intended for office work or for living in.

Built by the same developers as the Burj – Emaar – the Dubai Creek Tower will be at least 900 metres high, making it far taller than Tokyo’s 634-metre-tall Skytree tower. Architect Santiago Calatrava’s design is inspired by the lily flower and mosque minarets, and will feature a 360-degree observation deck and an expansive Hanging Gardens of Babylon-style floor.

Though construction has been postponed due to the pandemic, the on-site hotel will inevitably become the place to stay in this ‘City of Superlatives’.


Montreal’s gigantic urban forest

Jumping on the forest-everything-you-can trend, Montreal has just unveiled some pretty dazzling plans to turn a major street in its city centre into wooded public square.

Aiming to reduce the city’s ‘heat island’ effect, the design (by a mix of Swedish and Canadian architects) will involve the planting of hundreds of trees and creating several ponds, right next to McGill University campus. Peek through the foliage, and it’s hoped you’ll still be able to make out Mount Royal looming in the distance.

Work is set to start between 2023 and 2024 – so head to Quebec’s biggest city in a few years’ time, and the air should feel significantly fresher. Here’s to many other polluted – but forward-looking – cities around the world following suit.

More cool plans and ideas shaping the future of Montreal

Few skylines are quite as iconic as New York’s. But now here’s an idea for a building that could rival the likes of One World Trade Center and the Empire State Building.

Paris-based studio Rescubika recently released a design for what would be the tallest building in the United States, at 737 metres. It would also be also the world’s tallest ‘carbon sink’. Resembling a gigantic, plant-filled cruise ship, the structure would be covered in 23,000 square feet of solar panels, 36 wind turbines and enough shrubbery to ensure it absorbs more CO2 than it releases.

We’ll be honest: this is one of the less likely buildings on this list to be actually, y’know, built. But we’re sure many cities around the world will be looking at this right now and thinking: we want one.

More cool plans and ideas shaping the future of New York

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