polis: a collective blog about cities worldwide

A Collection of Urban Favorites

by Peter Sigrist

Cities are collections of places within places — at the same time accidental, designed, and constructed through collective action. As 2010 comes to an end, it's a good time to consider the factors that shape urban experience. In this spirit, we present a list of momentary favorites with no requirement that they came about this year. It includes ours as well as those of others sent via comments and e-mails. The results contain insights about the kinds of experiences and actions that make great cities.

The questions called for favorite city-related music videos, places, books, movies, designs, and initiatives. We've collected the responses and organized them into the following groups: 1) places as indirect experience, 2) places as direct experience, 3) action and results (including but not limited to art, design, planning, advocacy, and development).

In retrospect, the questions could have been more clear and open-ended. This might have generated more diverse urban favorites, from public art to video game environments and who knows what else. Still the current results are fascinating. So, without further commentary, we present a list of favorites in 2010.

Places as indirect experience through music videos, movies, and books

Music videos

"Waterloo Sunset" by Corner Shop

"i just remembered this gorgeous video of cornershop playing the kinks’ 'waterloo sunset'. coincidentally, like siya siyabend’s video [below, movies section], this is also set during a sunset, but in london, on the thames. i’ll be honest and say that 'baby baby baby' by make the girl dance also came to mind." farangi.

"Baby Baby Baby" by Make The Girl Dance

"Brown Paper Bag" by Roni Size

"Only You" by Portishead

"The Funeral" by Band of Horses

"Danny MacAskill's bmx video (not really a music video, but it is set to a song [above] and is so wonderful)" faslanyc

"Respiration" by Blackstar

"The Invisible Cities" by Bulldozer

"New York New York" by Tha Dogg Pound

"We Used to Wait" by Arcade Fire, interactive version at thewildernessdowntown.com

"Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)" by Arcade Fire

"Saturdays" by De La Soul

"Cousins" by Vampire Weekend

"The Bottle" by Gil Scott-Heron

"Wolf Like Me" by TV on the Radio

"Homecoming" by Kanye West

"Take Away Show #113" by Onda Vaga

"Enjoy the Silence" by Depeche Mode

"Wildstyle" by Grandmaster Flash

"Splitting the Atom" by Massive Attack

"The People" by Common

"Born Free" by M.I.A.

"The Suburbs" by Arcade Fire

"I Got it Made" by Special Ed

"Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard" by Paul Simon on "Sesame Street"


"Amores Perros" by Alejandro González Iñárritu

"Run Lola Run" by Tom Tykwer

"City of God" by Fernando Meirelles

"Jules et Jim" by Henri-Pierre Roché

"Usual Suspects" by Bryan Singer

"On the Waterfront" by Elia Kazan

"Crooklyn" by Spike Lee

"Still Life" by Jia Zhang-Ke

"From Jia Zhang-Ke, I'd recommend 'Still Life,' 'The World,' and '24 City.' I thought '24 City' would make the archi/urban planning set all atwitter, but I haven't  detected too much chatter." Alexander Trevi, Pruned/@Pruned

"Taxi Driver" by Martin Scorsese

"Breathless" by Jean-Luc Godard

"Juice" by Ernest R. Dickerson

"8 1/2" by Federico Fellini

"Milk" by Gus Van Sant

"Elite Squad 2" by Jose Padilha

"The Rio de Janeiro favelas in Tropa de Elite 2 (Elite Squad 2). It's a blockbuster sequel to another Brazilian film about the real-life paramilitary police units that have been dispatched to quell violence and the rule of drug traffickers in Rio's slums. The sequel focuses more on how corruption within the government furthers this reality, but the slums are the battleground in the film. And with the recent violence and police takeovers that drew international media attention to a group of slums known as the Complexo do Alemao, the film is especially timely and relevant." Nate Berg/@nate_berg

"Repo Man" by Alex Cox

"Metropolis" by Fritz Lang

"Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" by Pedro Almodóvar

"Manhattan" by Woody Allen

"Somewhere" by Sofia Coppola

"Paris Je T'aime," 18 short films by various directors, including Wes Craven, Gérard Depardieu, and the Coen brothers

"Crossing the Bridge - The Sound of Istanbul" by Fatih Akin

"in a scene from a movie i mentioned a couple of days ago, 'crossing the bridge - the sound of istanbul' ('istanbul hatirasi - köprüyü geçmek'), a band of street performers called siya siyabend plays a song called 'hayyam'" farangi.

"Adaptation" by Spike Jonze

"The Everglades as depicted in 'Adaptation' (not 2010...), those disappearing from memory in 'Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind'" Brett Milligan, Free Association Design

"Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" by Michel Gondry

"Breaking and Entering" by Anthony Minghella

"The Red Balloon" by Albert Lamorisse

Ray Barbee in "Ban This" by Stacy Peralta and C. R. Stecyk

"Lady and the Tramp" by Clyde Geronimi, Wilfred Jackson, and Hamilton Luske

"My Own Private Idaho" by Gus Van Sant

"The Conformist" by Bernardo Bertolucci

"Tsotsi" by Gavin Hood

"Man on Wire" by James Marsh

"Amelie" by Jean-Pierre Jeunet

"Rear Window" by Alfred Hitchcock

"The Blues Brothers" by John Landis

"The Triplets of Belleville" by Sylvain Chomet

"Cinema Paradiso" by Giuseppe Tornatore

"Kansas City" by Robert Altman

"A Brighter Summer Day" by Edward Yang

"Edward Yang's "Yi Yi" is amazing, but "A Brighter Summer Day" is even better. I was a bit bored while watching, even stopped midway before finishing later. But I couldn't stop thinking about it afterwards; it haunted me for weeks. It's mostly set at night in 1960s Taipei, and those nocturnal scenes are phenomenally lyrical." Alexander Trevi, Pruned/@Pruned

"Blade Runner" by Ridley Scott

"Sleepless in Seattle" by Nora Ephron

"Meet Me in St. Louis" by Vincente Minnelli

"Adrift in Tokyo" by Satoshi Miki

"'adrift in tokyo' ('tenten') makes tokyo seem open and accessible to the most aimless wanderers." farangi.

"Assa" by Sergei Solovyov

The full version of "Assa" is posted here. Although it's in Russian, without subtitles, it's very worth checking the amazing urban settings and music.


"Ulysses" by James Joyce

"Transition" by Iain Banks

"Invisible Cities" by Italo Calvino

Raymond Chandler's LA

"A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" by Dave Eggers

"dot-com-bubble-era San Francisco in 'A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius' ... 'the white-hot center of the world'" Brendan Crain, Where/@thewhereblog

"Invisible Man" by Ralph Ellison

"Ask the Dust" by John Fante

"Cities Under Siege" by Stephen Graham

"The Adventures of Augie March" by Saul Bellow

"Cities Back from the Edge" by Roberta Brandes Gratz and Norman Mintz

"Beloved" by Toni Morrison

"the scene [in 'Beloved'] outside Sethe's house when the neighbors come, and the clearing where they meet: 'When the women assembled outside 124, Sethe was breaking a lump of ice into chunks. She dropped the ice pick into her apron pocket to scoop the pieces into a basin of water. When the music entered the window, she was wringing a cool cloth to put on Beloved’s forehead. Beloved, sweating profusely, was sprawled on the bed in the keeping room, a salt rock in her hand. Both women heard it at the same time and both lifted their heads. As the voices grew louder, Beloved sat up, licked the salt and went into the bigger room. Sethe and she exchanged glances and started toward the window. They saw Denver sitting on the steps and beyond her, where the yard met the road, they saw the rapt faces of thirty neighbor women. Some had their eyes closed; others looked at the hot, cloudless sky. Sethe opened the door and reached for Beloved’s hand. Together they stood in the doorway. For Sethe it was as though the Clearing had come to her with all its heat and simmering leaves, where the voices of women searched for the right combination, the key, the code, the sound that broke the back of words. Building voice upon voice until they found it, and when they did it was a wave of sound wide enough to sound deep water and knock the pods off chestnut trees. It broke over Sethe and she trembled like the baptized in its wash.'" Alexa Mills, MIT CoLab

"The Maltese Falcon" by Dashiell Hammett

"Them" by Joyce Carol Oates

"Istanbul" by Orhan Pamuk

“i only wish a place held as much meaning for me as istanbul does for orhan pamuk." farangi.

"Utopia" by Thomas More

"Midnight's Children" by Salman Rushdie

"City Planning According to Artistic Principles" by Camillo Sitte

"Last Exit to Brooklyn" by Hubert Selby, Jr.

"The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces" by William H. Whyte

"The City and the City" by China Miéville

"Don't know that I have a favorite, but I'm just finishing up China Miéville's 'The City and the City' (I am late to this), and his invention of the twin cities of Besźel and Ul Qoma — cities located in some unnamed Eastern European country, which share the same physical space but, through historical incident and the force of contemporary politics, are perceived by their inhabitants as separate cities — is both clever and memorable." Rob Holmes, mammoth/@eatingbark

"Just Kids" by Patti Smith

"'Just Kids' is a salute to New York City and Smith's friendship with the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe" Rebecka Gordan, Polis/The Architect's Newspaper

"The BLDGBLOG Book" by Geoff Manaugh

"The Death and Life of Great American Cities" by Jane Jacobs

Places as direct experience

Canals of Bruges

Lake Merritt in Oakland

BTS Skytrain in Bangkok

Zócalo in Oaxaca

Glass floor of the CN Tower in Toronto

Copley Mall and Prudential Center in Boston

"None that actually exist. The ones that are contested, idealized, and claimed by a public, and thus in flux. (See also the latest MAS Context 'Public')" Javier Arbona, Javierest/@javierest

Streets of SoHo in the area right around Old St. Patrick's Cathedral

Griffith Obeservatory in Los Angeles

LA River

Inside a ferry crossing Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong

Old neighborhoods of Barcelona

Sunday Flea Market at the Mercat San Antoni in Barcelona

Rynek Glowny in Wroclaw

"Fort Tilden ... (the combination of empty beaches and bunkers built into the dunes, all within an hour's bike ride of downtown Brooklyn, is perfect)" faslanyc

Stern Grove Park in San Francisco

Eastern Market in Detroit

"The southeast corner of Alvarado Street and Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles (in Streetview). I catch the bus here a lot, and I like it because it's just a very vibrant and diverse part of the city. It's flooded with the city's broad array of Latin American cultures, and an interesting cross-section of the city's lower and lower-middle classes. I think it's one of the better snapshots of the city as a whole — a city often mischaracterized." Nate Berg/@nate_berg

"Lately I've been enjoying parking garages; this 2009 set of photographs from Bob Trempe at Polar Inertia does a good job of capturing the moment when the top level of a garage becomes the perfect platform for viewing the city." Rob Holmes, mammoth/@eatingbark

Madison Square Park in New York City

"Interstitial space between a working port and creeping gentrification, or just the port, see Terminal Island" Stephen Becker, mammoth/@stphnbckr

Centro 73 in Chişinău, "the first squatted socio-cultural center in Moldova ... located in a landmark building presently threatened with demolition" Rebecka Gordan, Polis/The Architect's Newspaper

Genesee Valley Park (between the stone bridge and the railroad bridge) in Rochester

Subterranean tunnels and highways of Guanajuato

Vondel Park in Amsterdam

Vacant lots and space beneath highways

Newbury Street in Boston

Yarra River in Melbourne

Action and results

CoLab Radio

"The Center for Urban Pedagogy Affordable Housing Toolkit explains the term affordable housing and encourages New Yorkers to ask the crucial question: 'Affordable to whom?'" Rebecka Gordan, Polis/The Architect's Newspaper

"Los Angeles' CicLAvia. The temporary street closure on October 10 that pulled hundreds of thousands of Angelenos onto their bikes and skateboards and out into the city's otherwise car-dominated streets was easily the coolest event I've experienced in L.A. after living there for more than 8 years. It made a huge impact in the city, and changed the way a lot of L.A. people think about their city. Can't wait for the next one on April 10, 2011. For out-of-towners, this would be a great day to be in L.A." Nate Berg/@nate_berg

Creative Time NYC Key to the City Project

Green for All

Heal the Bay

Hudson River Park Greenway, "a great example of waterside renewal ... public space in the shape of beautiful green areas and splendid bike lanes" Rebecka Gordan, Polis/The Architect's Newspaper

In Our Backyard (ioby.org). Compost for the Craig's Kitchen garden (above) was donated by the North Brooklyn Compost Project, an outstanding initiative on ioby.org.

Inclusive Cities. This photo is from "Working in Warwick," an Inclusive Cities publication on street traders in Durban.


Mistra Urban Futures, "an ambitious new center for sustainable urban development in Gothenbourg, Sweden" Rebecka Gordan, Polis/The Architect's Newspaper

Municipal Art Society

Next American City

NYC Department of Transportation Plaza Program

Open Architecture Network

Orangi Pilot Project in Karachi

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

Places: Design Observer


Planning Corps

Project for Public Spaces

Shack/Slum Dwellers Federation

Silicon Valley DeBug

SPARC/National Slum Dwellers Federation/Mahila Milan

Urban Ecology

Urban Land Institute

"[Urbanscale] seems worth watching. Generally, [initiatives] which are iterative instead of instant." Stephen Becker, mammoth/@stphnbckr

Urban Omnibus

Van Alen Institute

"This is more a category of urban initiatives than a particular instance, but I've been encouraged by the spread of and interest in what might be called (with a nod to FASLANYC) participatory lo-fi landscapes. From field guides for phytoremediation and wild urban plants that promise opportunities for urban gardeners to branch out beyond small-scale farming, to organizations and initiatives like Broken City Lab (Windsor, Ontario), i wish this was (New Orleans, Louisiana), Islands of LA (Los Angeles, California) or City Repair Project (Portland, Oregon) which are re-interpreting, re-imagining, and appropriating urban landscapes, both designers and non-designers are pursuing opportunities for citizens to have productive agency in shaping the landscape of the city. Though there are legitimate concerns about how these sorts of opportunities can be extended beyond the young professionals who tend to initiate them, this is tremendously exciting." Rob Holmes, mammoth/@eatingbark

Pop-up culture

Community wikis

Often designs that are unsolicited

"As a dystopian critique of sustainable design, the notion of 'green secrecy' by Bryan Finoki" Javier Arbona, Javierest/@javierest

"I've got a peculiar interest in the sort of anonymous but tremendously efficacious design work that is done by public agencies in large cities, and I can quickly point to the work of both Janette Sadik-Khan/NYCDOT and Gabe Klein/DCDOT as being transformative and progressive, as street sections and infrastructures in both New York City and the District of Columbia have been re-designed to be more accommodating to alternative modes of transportation. This is often slow, block-by-block and instance-by-instance design, and it's not nearly so iconic as a large capital project (like, to pick a contrasting example in New York, the Highline), but it is, in my opinion, more valuable and a better example of what designers can do for a city." Rob Holmes, mammoth/@eatingbark

Community Land Trusts

The Clean Water Act

"Multi-purpose, digitally-enhanced urban libraries, the 'new agoras'" Brendan Crain, Where/@thewhereblog

Unlimited Urban Woods by DUS Architects

San Francisco MUNI Fast Pass

Personal devices for reading, internet, and computer applications (Kindle, iPhone, iPad)

Brompton folding bike

Antique streetcars

"i don’t know if i have a favourite building or design. these are some places and things i’ve happened to hear about and i’ve been interested in because of their designs: eixample in barcelona; the RIT in curitiba; cycling policy in copenhagen; the torenstraat/kaden intersection in drachten; sociopolis in valencia." farangi.


Street balconies


DESI building in Dinajpur

Japan Pavilion for the Expo 2000 in Hanover

"Any part of a city with a building by F.A.T." Stephen Becker, mammoth/@stphnbckr

The KURSAAL building in San Sebastián "reflects the color of the adjacent Urumea River and is built in the shape of sea rocks." John Arroyo

Sociópolis in Valencia

"The Animal-Shaped cities of Southern Sudan. This is my favorite urban design because it is so ridiculously inappropriate and ill-informed." Nate Berg/@nate_berg

Eishin Campus near Tokyo

Credits: Images linked to source. Special thanks to everyone who contributed via e-mail and in the comments section here.