When you read, research and write about places around the world, certain terms pop up with persistent regularity. Of these, the words “planned city” have stuck with me and elicited a certain amount of curiosity. After all, aren’t all cities planned in some way? Isn’t it redundant to declare a city as expressly planned?
Well as it turns out, not exactly. Whether a “new town”, “purpose-built city” or “planned community”, some urban centers and world capitals were built with a great deal of intention and ostensibly, without any history of settlement. As a result, urban planners, engineers and architects like Le Corbusier and Oscar Niemeyer can “go to town”, as it were.
Some of the most ambitious projects in human history certainly fall into the planned city category, namely Navi Mumbai in India, with over two million people, and the multi-billion dollar New Songdo City in South Korea.
Here are some of the best planned cities around the world for sheer tourist enjoyment.
The second city of Sweden, behind the capital Stockholm, has a metropolitan population just over 900,000 and a design that is almost completely Dutch in nature. Built by Dutch city architects in the 17th century in the mold of Amsterdam, Gothenburg’s location between Denmark and Norway was entirely strategic. The old canal city is a wonderful place to explore, although many of the historic landmarks in the Haga district have been rebuilt over time.
Though the capital of the United States of America is not without social problems, the heart of the city is without a doubt, a marvel. The neat urban plan of D.C., from tony Georgetown to the Smithsonian museums that line the National Mall, the White House and cherry blossoms on the Potomac, is great fun to explore.
Another world capital built with pinpoint precision is Canberra, Australia. The location of the capital was a compromise between Sydney and Melbourne in the early 20th century, with the subsequent blueprint the result of a global competition won by American architect Walter Burley Griffin. Less than a century later, Canberra shines as one of the most aesthetically refined capitals in the world.
Planned cities abound in South America, the direct result of colonial expansion in centuries past. La Plata is a notable exception however and came to be after Spain’s hegemony over Argentina had expired. Purposely constructed to replace Buenos Aires as provincial capital, La Plata was designed by rationalist urban planner Pedro Benoit. Known from 1952 to 1955 as Eva Perón City, La Plata has the largest cathedral in the country and the second-most important opera house in the grand Teatro Argentino.
With a metropolitan population over 6 million people, Belo Horizonte ranks behind only Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo in Brazil. The capital of the state of Minas Gerais is a beauty, with an urban plan inspired by Washington, D.C. and promenades lined with some of the most arresting architecture in South America.
The historic city of Meknes is not only a UNESCO World Heritage Site but the former capital of Morocco as well. A purpose-built, late-18th century Imperial city, Meknes was the result of impeccable and ambitious designs. Laid-out in Spanish-Moorish style, the city of 950,000 people is remarkable.
The capital of Rajasthan, known around the world as the “Pink City”, is home to over 3 million people. One of the most popular tourist destinations in India, for points of interest like Hawa Mahal, Amber Fort and Naharghar Fort, Jaipur was built at the behest of Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II in the early 18th century. The plan and construction of the city was in adherence to Vastu Shastra, a sustainable design system that dates back more than ten millenia.
The capital of Brazil is the ultimate example of the modern, intentional city. The result of a brilliant, contentious and controversial collaboration between Lucio Costa and Oscar Niemeyer, Brasilia is the foremost guinea pig from which all other grand urban development plans draw inspiration and perhaps learn what not to do. Not without flaws and critics, Brasilia is nonetheless a UNESCO World Heritage city.