Technology and culture now progress at such astonishing pace that what was once considered cutting edge 5 years ago is now deemed obsolete. And so the same is true of cities, vast agglomerations of dynamic spaces, innovative businesses and imaginative, productive people that can transform their prospects in the space of a decade. Whereas Paris was the most modern city in the world during the glamorous fin-de-siecle era of the 1890s, it is now criticism for being not much more than a museum. Similarly, while Detroit was the king of the Motor Age, it is often characterised by many today as town in the aftermath of an economic apocalypse, ripped apart by twin forces of suburbanisation and the global economy. To keep you abreast of what’s hot and what’s not, here is a guide to the most modern cities in the world, showcasing the smart towns of tomorrow, culturally diverse conurbations, and those settlements known for relentless innovation.
Perhaps the most technologically advanced metropolis in the world, the greater San Francisco Bay Area is a hub for hi-tech, digital and online innovation. Companies such as Apple, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Electronic Arts and dozens of other world-leading innovators are based in this vibrant, forward-looking conurbation. Whether you are engaged in pioneering scientific research at prestigious universities like Stanford, liaising with the Wikimedia Foundation, launching an online start-up in Silicon Valley, or mingling with the likes of Sergei Brin and Mark Zuckerburg in Palo Alto, San Francisco is the place to be if you want to see the future first hand.
Cool, calm and collected, the stylish and understated Scandinavian capitals all have solid claims for being amongst the most Modern cities in Europe. Yet it is Helsinki that comes out on top, with a free WiFi zone stretching across the entire city, mobile phone companies like Nokia basing their headquarters there, and design firms such as Marimekko conquering the world with avant-garde prints and textiles. Helsinki is also ahead of the curve culturally, recognising same-sex civil partnerships as early as 2002 and offering residents generous maternity and paternity leave to look after their newborns. A modern approach to life, indeed.
Once a down at heel port town full of sailors, disreputable bars and ladies of the night, Yokohama has reinvented itself in recent years and is finally climbing out of the shadow of nearby Tokyo. At the centre of this modern renaissance has been the renovation of the old harbour district, Minato Mirai 21, full of glass and steel skyscrapers, including the 972 foot high Landmark Tower, Japan’s tallest building. Heavyweight conglomerations such as Nissan and JVC call this part of town home, while elsewhere in this cutting-edge city the Sony Research Center exists to relentlessly push the boundaries of experimental electronics.
While London is lumbered with Victorian relics for its train stations and some of the oldest railway tunnels in the world, in other ways the British capital couldn’t be any more advanced. Pioneering transport innovations such as the Oyster Card, a cashless payment system, and a well-regarded Bicycle Hire scheme, mark this out as one of the world’s most forward-looking transport cities. Even dingy, old Heathrow seems to have transformed itself, boasting the sleek and spacious Terminal 5, linked to the rest of the airport by automated trains. What’s more, the terminal even hosts the world’s first public Urban Light Transit system, a network of individual futuristic pods taking passengers from the airport’s carpark to a number of flight-side destinations.
Though Dubai has grabbed the headlines in recent years for its overblown boom and bust development cycle, nearby Abu Dhabi has gone about things a little more quietly. Opting for smart, measured growth instead of the decadence and bombast of Dubai, the city has invested in green energy, technology, the arts and culture rather than trying to catch the fleeting tourist dollar. Along with plans for a zero-carbon settlement at Masdar City, Abu Dhabi will soon be able showcase sparkling cultural venues by architects like Zaha Hadid, Daniel Libeskind, Sir Norman Foster, Jean Nouvel and Frank Gehry, making this one of the most cutting edge architecture and art venues on earth.
There is a long tradition of building new National capitals from scratch, with St Petersburg, Canberra and New Delhi amongst the most famous. Yet the finest example amongst the more recent purpose-built capital cities remains Brasilia, a modernist set-piece par excellence. With an innovative Piloti Plan designed by radical planner Lucio Costa, and ethereal government buildings by centenarian Oscar Niemeyer, Brasilia is like a shimmering modernist mirage surrounded by the tropical savanna of central Brazil.
It should come as no surprise that an Indian city makes this list, with a burgeoning I.T. sector evolving in this polyglot Asian country. Bolstered by a raft of outsourcing moves from more expensive Western nations, and an irrepressible spirit of technological innovation, Bangalore now accounts for more than 35% of India’s IT professionals and more than half of the nation’s cutting-edge biotech industry. At the heart of Bangalore’s modern economy is the Bagmane Tech Park, a futuristic complex of offices, factories and research institutes home to companies such as Dell, Volvo, Motorola and LinkedIn.
One of the youngest major cities in the world, Tel Aviv was founded as recently as 1909 by Jewish migrants to Palestine, who fashioned a city rich with more than 5000 pieces of Bauhaus architecture, slick beach-front high-rises and an enviable outdoor, cafe culture. Tel Aviv is also one of the most eco-friendly metropolises in the world, with an airport built on top of a disused garbage dump, solar power firms taking root in the city giving much needed energy to this vibrant 24 hour town.
If the city of the future is going to be far more diverse and multi-cultural than the cities we know today, then maybe Toronto is a first glimpse at what is to come. A veritable melting pot of cultures, Toronto is one of the most diverse major cities on the planet, with almost 50% of the population born outside of Canada, and plenty of the natives with at least one foreign-born parent. Major immigrant and ethnic groups include the British, Irish, Italian and French, who have long settled on this side of Lake Ontario, while newer arrivals include the Chinese, Filipinos, West Africans, the Vietnamese, Koreans, Greeks and Brazilians. In fact, you can find representation from just about every corner of the globe in Toronto, with over 140 languages spoken within the confines of the city. And while some places go down the route of enclaves and ghettoes, in this bustling town people of different races and creeds intermingle with one another, creating dynamic new hybrid cultures, and showing the rest of the world how to get along.
Many of the big cities of South East Asia could stake a claim to being amongst the most modern in the world. Singapore, self-fashioned out of a swamp to become one of the world’s leading financial and shipping centres, the hi-tech manufacturing claims of Seoul, or the incredible transformations of Shanghai are worthy contenders. Yet it is Hong Kong that really stands out. Dripping with ultra-modern technology, slick digital roadside displays, gravity defying skyscrapers and a savvy population seemingly glued to their mobile phones, Hong Kong is a successful fusion of Western entrepreneurship, a Chinese outlook on life and modern engineering prowess. Ascend to the 100th floor of the International Commerce Centre in Kowloon’s glitzy Union Square district to take in a bird’s eye view of modernity in built-form, and stick around until sunset to watch the nightly symphony of lights illuminate and dazzle buildings on both sides of Victoria Harbour.
Date posted: 16th January, 2012Home > Articles > Worlds Top 10 Most Modern Cities