Planning a great yet functional urban area takes innovation as well as knowledge. The following top 20 urban planning successes of all time range from the Taos Pueblo to the current functionality presented by Camden Town, London. In between, you’ll discover plenty of examples of urban planning that stood the test of time or that successfully remedied the ravages of time.

  1. AmsterdamAmsterdam, Netherlands: The capital and largest city in the Netherlands, Amsterdam has flourished from the 14th century. In the early 17th century, a comprehensive plan was developed that was based on four concentric half-circles of canals with their ends emerging at the IJ bay. Today, with little expansion, only 20 percent of trips around the city are in a car. Amsterdam is one of the most bicycle-friendly large cities in the world.
  2. BillericaBillerica Garden Suburb, Massachusetts: Incorporated in 1914, Billerica offered the country’s first garden suburb designed specifically for workers. Modeled after Ebenezer Howard’s English garden city designs, Billerica combined a limited dividend corporation with co-partnership. Workers would own their homes by purchasing shares. The result was the construction of 70 new homes between 1914 and 1917.
  3. Camden TownCamden Town, London: Camden Town is largely pedestrian, and the number of residential areas is surprising, considering the number of shops and merchants. It is walkable from most central London districts, and dozens of train and transit lines connect to this area, with the main underground tube station right in the center. There is no one age group, race, gender or socio-economic group that outnumbers another as pedestrians mix for entertainment, living and shopping.
  4. ChicagoChicago Boulevard System: The history of the Boulevard System of Chicago was conceived in 1837 and constantly expanded over the years; but, by 2001, the increasing popularity of the neighborhood and the trend of tearing down single family homes to build multi-unit condominiums threatened the integrity and historic significance of the boulevards. In 2005, the Chicago City Council designated the “Logan Square Boulevards District” as an official city landmark district, preserving this design for future generations.
  5. Eugene OregonEugene, Oregon: If you want to know about green cities, Eugene make the top five in the Popular Science America’s 50 Greenest Cities. But, it is the most ambitious in this goal, it seems, as wind-generated and hydroelectric sources now generate 85 percent of its energy. They also introduced a hybrid transit system and plans to be carbon neutral with no waste by 2020. Eugene is known as a walkable, bikeable, accessible, active and involved community.
  6. Forest ParkForest Park, St. Louis, Missouri: Thanks to a city-wide effort involving both for-profit and non-profit partners, Forest Park was restored to the world-class stature it held nearly a century ago. Dedicated on 24 June 1876, and site of the 1904 World’s Fair, the park is home to St. Louis’s major cultural institutions as well as to some of the city’s oldest forested areas. At 1,293 acres, it is approximately 500 acres larger than Central Park in New York.
  7. Granville IslandGranville Island, Vancouver: Granville Island began its transformation in the late 1970’s from a declining 37-acre industrial park in Vancouver’s False Creek to possibly the most successful urban redevelopment ever seen in North America. Granville Island’s lessons are that great places can be created almost anywhere under any conditions with minimal expense.
  8. GreensburgGreensburg Sustainable Comprehensive Plan: On 4 May 2007, an F-5 class tornado touched down more than 75 times, took 12 lives, and leveled the town of Greensburg, Kansas. Residents translated this tragedy as an opportunity to rebuild. The Greensburg City Council enacted a requirement that all publicly funded buildings over 4,000 square feet must be built to the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED Platinum certification level, the only city in the world with that level of commitment to sustainable building standards.
  9. High LineHigh Line: Although this elevated park in the sky built on top of the skeleton of an old rail system in New York opened in 2009, it has become one of the world’s greatest urban experiments in turning a former industrial relic into a park. Since then, 2 million visitors have strolled along the six-block greenway between 14th and 20th Streets. Recently, it was announced that the High Line will double in length over the next year.
  10. RotterdamLijnbaan in Rotterdam: This area represents the first purpose-built pedestrian street (little to no auto traffic), opened in 1953. It served as a model for what are known as “pedestrian malls” in the U.S. While still in their infancy, some examples include: Boulder, Colorado; Buffalo, New York; Portland, Maine and Seattle, Washington. A list of U.S. pedestrian malls, including ones that have re-opened to traffic, is presented by Urban Review STL.
  11. New OrleansLower Garden District, New Orleans: Despite impacts from hurricanes, this area in New Orleans still contains an extensive collection of 19th-century residential and commercial buildings, many pre-dating the Civil War and 150-year-old oak trees. Most of the streets are one-lane residential or two-lane commercial; however, vehicles do not dominate this neighborhood.
  12. MariemontMarimont, Ohio: When Thomas J. Emery died in 1906, his widow, Mary Emery, undertook to erect a new town intended to serve as a national exemplar for suburban American and a permanent monument to her husband’s memory. Thus, as one of the first planned communities in the United States, Mariemont is well-known for its charming historic architecture, lush foliage, award-winning schools and friendly, community-minded residents.
  13. New HavenNine Square Plan, New Haven, Connecticut: Minister John Davenport and merchant Theophilius Eaton laid out a new city in 1638, following the principles of ideal cities gleaned from the Bible. They focused on a central square a half mile on a side, then subdivided into nine squares. This plan established the framework for the central-green, grid-street based village plan used by hundreds of newly settled towns across New England and westward throughout the U.S.
  14. Ponce Puerto RicoPonce Center City, Puerto Rico: A great grandson of Juan Ponce de León founded Ponce, Puerto Rico, at the end of the 17th Century. Like most Spanish colonial towns, Ponce had a square with a church and a municipal building. An important aspect of Ponce is that it has had the foresight to preserve the many XIX century buildings that stand around the main square’s expanse. While modern with its malls, Ponce has preserved an historic aspect.
  15. SanibelSanibel Island, Florida: In 2006 the Sanibel Island community marked the 30th anniversary of the groundbreaking Sanibel Plan that identified nine major ecological zones to help planners designate appropriate land uses, intensity, and performance standards. The plan has since allowed Sanibel to grow without exceeding the island’s natural carrying capacity.
  16. South Livermore ValleySouth Livermore Valley Specific Plan, California: Faced with the potential loss of thousands of acres of prime agricultural land in the heart of an active wine-producing region, the City of Livermore created an innovative conservation mechanism to curb sprawl and permanently protect the community’s vineyards. Implemented in 1996, by 2006 the plan had resulted in the direct placement of 3,229 acres under permanent agricultural easement.
  17. Taos PuebloTaos, Pueblo, New Mexico: Possibly one of the earliest high-rise towns, this area has been home to Native Americans since at least the 1500s, and the multi-storied adobe buildings have been continuously inhabited for over 1000 years. As a place, it is unique in being so old, still true-to-form and environmentally appropriate.
  18. Indies LawThe Law of the Indies: Developed by the Spanish Crown to direct colonization in the New World, the Laws of the Indies contained instructions for site selection and the layout and construction of new towns. Issued by King Philip, the laws included 148 ordinances. Signed in 1573, the Laws of the Indies are seen as the first wide-ranging guidelines towards design and development of communities.
  19. Miami ValleyThe Miami Valley (Ohio) Region’s Fair Share Housing Plan of 1970: Known as the “Dayton Plan,” Miami Valley’s approach to providing affordable housing opportunities in each of five counties in the region became the first “fair share” housing plan in the nation, influencing federal government policies.
  20. Philadelphia PlanThe Plan of Philadelphia: Only a year after William Penn approved the siting of the city, the 1683 Plan of Philadelphia was created. Philadelphia was the first large American city to utilize the grid street pattern, to provide dedicated land exclusively for open green public squares, to provide street widths that vary with their functions, and to include a planned area intended to accommodate significant and long-term future growth.

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