by Tim Kiladze
Tight streets, a famous university and glimpses of parks, commons and courtyards dominate Cambridge, England. North of London, the city is accentuated by the River Cam and buildings both new and old, such as historic King’s College Chapel and Cambridge University’s modern Centre for Mathematical Sciences.
Larger cities are often just as beautiful. Tokyo, home to 50-story high-rises and traditional villas, is a favorite of Amanda Reynolds, member of the U.K.’s Urban Design Group, a collaborative body of architects, landscape architects and urban planners. But it’s not just Tokyo’s architecture that typifies its beauty. The city has a sense of structure and order as people smile and bow to each other, yet it explodes with energy as the narrow streets come to life with neon lighting after dark, she says.
Since beauty is subjective, we surveyed city specialists from a range of fields, including urban planning, architecture and sustainable development. Respondents include Reynolds and Michael Kaufman, an architect at Chicago-based architectural firm Goettsch Partners, as well as Raymond Levitt, director of the construction program in civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University, Tony McGuirk, an urban designer, architect and chairman of BDP in London, J. Hugh O’Donnell of urban engineering firm MMM International, and Ken Drucker, New York design director of architectural firm HOK.
Cities of Light
Paris earned repeated nods for its wide, tree-lined boulevards, its street life and its iconic structures such as the Grand Palais, as well as its contrast to English architecture, which promotes individuality and eccentricity. (Paris’ aesthetic qualities were largely influenced by the 19th century Haussmann plan that stylized building facades.)
“The strength of Paris’ ‘sameness’ enables this beautiful city to absorb such fantastic one-off pieces as the highly controversial (at the time) Eiffel Tower, the outrageously modern Centre Pompidou (by English and Italian architects) and the highly original and innovative Institute du Monde Arab,” says Reynolds. Moreover, the city’s historical height restrictions limited the development of towering buildings. “You don’t feel like you’re walking in shadows through most of the city,” says Kaufman.
But while Paris is hailed for its man-made design and structures, Vancouver is noted for its natural beauty. In this coastal city open air is abundant–from the green west-end campus of the University of British Columbia to the enormous Stanley Park just outside downtown. In addition, both the snowcapped Coast Mountains and the Pacific Ocean provide a beautiful backdrop, and the city’s diverse cultures and foods offer a resounding finishing touch.
Open space also makes Cape Town special, says Levitt. Renowned English sea navigator Sir Francis Drake once referred to Cape Town as the fairest cape in the world. The city houses the Kirstenbosch botanical garden, and the top of Table Mountain offers a breathtaking view of the city from roughly 3,500 feet above sea level. Levitt, an environmental engineer, praises the city’s minimal ecological footprint, a result of its “manageable size.”
note from planologie—do you agree with Forbes’ choices? Any conspicuous omissions? What aspects of beautiful cities are not taken into consideration here? What effect, if any, does a city’s beauty have on its residents?