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The World’s Next Great Cities

Our yearly look at eight up-and-coming metropolises that promise to make the world a tastier, more stylish, artsier, better-designed, greener, more diverse and altogether more beautiful place

Tony Taylor/Alamy

Tony Taylor/Alamy

Rotterdam, Netherlands (pop. 619,000)

The Next Great Architecture Scene

Like many European cities, Rotterdam had the misfortune of finding itself in the path of the Luftwaffe’s destructive bombing raids. During the postwar rebuilding years, the Netherlands’ second city was, in a sense, a complete architectural blank slate. But instead of trying to recapture its Old World grandeur, the city defiantly ushered in an era of unmatched avant-garde experimentation. Just scan the skyline for proof of this playfulness, from the pencil-shaped Blaaktoren to the forest of “Cube Houses”—box-shaped dwellings tilted onto their corners atop hexagonal stilts. What’s more, the Academy of Urbanism recently named Rotterdam the best city in Europe at the 2015 Urbanism Awards, explicitly because of this youthful, open approach to design and architecture. And the hits just keep coming. In late 2013, Pritzker Prize–winning native son Rem Koolhaas debuted the massive De Rotterdam, a “vertical city” that incorporates offices, apartments and a boutique hotel in a massive tangle of blocky interconnected towers. Following on its heels, March 2014 saw the unveiling of the Rotterdam Centraal Station renovation, marked by a massive angular canopy that juts out over a public plaza like a metal-clad shark fin. And perhaps most revolutionary of all is the Markthal, the world’s first residential food market. Opened in October, this Pop Art–inspired behemoth is shaped a bit like an airplane hangar. On the floor, you’ll find eight restaurants, 100 produce stalls and 15 food shops, while overhead, the arched building houses more than 200 apartments, with windows looking down on the bustle below. Best of all, blanketing the entire vaulted 131-foot-high ceiling and walls is a 36,000-square-foot digital mural depicting eye-popping fruits and vegetables—one of the largest single works of art in the world.

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Houston, Texas (pop. 2.2 million)

The Next Great Melting Pot

Chef Chris Shepherd of Underbelly has christened Houston the new American Creole city of the South. Forbes dubbed it the capital of America’s Third Coast. Beyoncé just calls it “home.” But whatever nickname you might give this Gulf Coast powerhouse—Space City, the Big Heart, H-Town—its many superlatives speak for themselves. And they all point to the fact that it will soon join the ranks of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago as one of the nation’s major power centers. It’s enormous: America’s fourth-largest city, with 2.2 million people. It’s rich: Since the recession it has been No. 1 in the U.S. for job growth and home to more Fortune 500 companies than anywhere but New York City. It’s ascendant, among America’s 10 fastest-growing cities. It’s surprisingly progressive: the largest American city ever to be run by an openly gay politician, Mayor Annise Parker. It’s cosmopolitan, with an ever-expanding roster of museums and theaters. And, perhaps most important of all, it is gleefully, deliriously multicultural, ranking above even LA and NYC as the nation’s most diverse city. An added bonus: This demographic mashup has yielded a forward-thinking melting-pot cuisine that redefines what it means to eat like a Texan. At last year’s James Beard Awards (the foodie Oscars), three of the five nominees for best chef in the Southwest hailed from Houston, and each had a wholly unique culinary point of view—from the Southern-meets-Asian fare of Oxheart’s Justin Yu to the authentic Mexican of Hugo Ortega (of Hugo’s, Backstreet Café and Caracol) to the free- wheeling experimentation of eventual winner Shepherd, who seamlessly combines Cajun, Korean, French and barbecue on Underbelly’s roster of shareable small plates.

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Tel Aviv, Israel (pop. 404,000)

The Next Great Tech Hub

Northern California has Silicon Valley. New York City has Silicon Alley. London has the Silicon Roundabout. And now, Tel Aviv boasts Silicon Wadi (that’s Arabic for “gully”). You might assume a country that’s home to such ancient stalwarts as the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock would be stuck in the past, but Israel has its eye firmly on the future. In fact, the Startup Nation, as it’s been dubbed, boasts the most startups per capita of any country in the world. Youthful, fun-loving Tel Aviv—a “startup” city itself, having been founded in 1909—has naturally emerged as the nation’s techie hub. The research project Startup Genome ranked the city just behind Silicon Valley as the second-best ecosystem in the world for entrepreneurship. (It’s not difficult to see the logical progression from the communal culture of the kibbutz to the collaborative, open-plan workspaces of the modern high-tech sphere.) In late 2012, Google set up offices here that are almost a parody of the Silicon Valley aesthetic, with slides between floors, a Lego room and a music space that holds weekly jazz jam sessions. And despite the city’s many distractions—some of the best nightclubs and beaches on the Mediterranean—the people of Tel Aviv are clearly getting their work done: Israel is second only to China among foreign nations in the number of companies listed on the NASDAQ exchange.

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Taipei, Taiwan (pop. 2.7 million)

The Next Great Design Center

For decades, the “Made in
Taiwan” label meant shoddy, mass-produced goods rather than smart design. But as factory jobs increasingly move to the lower-cost, less regulated mainland, Taiwanese designers have taken the chance to reclaim their aesthetic identity. Now, “Made in Taipei” has emerged as a hip badge of honor. In fact, the city was recently named the World Design Capital for 2016 by the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design—a major honor for a burgeoning scene that is still, in many respects, in its infancy. One of the centers of this cutting-edge exploration is the Songshan Cultural and Creative Park, an urban renewal project that transformed a 1937 Modernist tobacco factory from the Japanese imperial days into an arts campus that includes galleries, a café, a restaurant and the Taiwan Design Museum. Throughout the city, designers are reflecting Taipei’s unique culture and history—the good, the bad, the ugly—in their work. Take, for example, husband-and-wife team Sean Yu and Yiting Cheng, of 22 Design Studio, who have embraced the city’s reputation as an architecturally boring sea of concrete and steel by incorporating the industrial materials directly into their brutalist but elegant pens, clocks and rings. Furniture designers such as Elvis Chang of Homer Concept have tackled the problem of urban overcrowding by crafting adaptable pieces that can be manipulated to suit the individual’s unique needs (Chang’s Stack Stool can be a table, a desk or a stepladder). And still others are mining Taipei’s past for inspiration, from the paper lantern–inspired lamps of Kimu Design Studio to Hakka Blue’s earthenware canisters, whose faux-cracked pattern calls to mind a traditional snack, the hard-boiled tea egg.

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Atlanta, Georgia (pop. 448,000)

The Next Great Green Zone

Culturally, Atlanta has been on the rise since media mogul Tyler Perry opened his studio here in 2008, churning out six TV shows and more than a dozen films in the intervening years. The city boasts its own camptastic “Real Housewives” franchise. FX recently ordered a comedy pilot from Donald Glover (also known by his nom de rap, Childish Gambino) about the city’s thriving hip-hop scene, and Lorne Michaels is working with Maya Rudolph and Jaden Smith on his own music industry sitcom for HBO. But aside from being the undisputed Black Hollywood, the city has also stealthily positioned itself as one of the greenest cities in America—which might come as a shock to anyone who has been forced to navigate its sprawl of choked highways. Luckily, all of that is changing, and the environmentally friendly results have been staggering. In fact, a recent study out of the Netherlands listed Atlanta as the fifth-greenest city in America, with 54 percent of its commercial buildings certified sustainable. One of the most conspicuous signs of this progress is the ongoing development of the BeltLine, a massive redevelopment project that has transformed 22 miles of unused railway corridor into a loop of parks, bike lanes, hiking trails and public artworks ringing downtown. The city also plans to unveil a major bike share program—big news for a city that rivals Los Angeles in its reliance on cars—as part of Mayor Kasim Reed’s stated goal of doubling bike commuters by the year 2016. And for those who don’t want to pedal to work during those sweltering Georgia summers, there’s another eco-friendly alternative: Last December saw the opening of the much-anticipated $98 million Atlanta Streetcar, the first time that mode of transit has been seen in the Big Peach since 1949.

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Lagos, Nigeria (pop. 21 million)

The Next Great Fashion Capital

Paris, Milan … Lagos? With young designers and a robust fashion week now in its fifth year, Nigeria’s most populous city is emerging as the next stop on the global style circuit. Having recently overtaken South Africa as the continent’s largest economy, Nigeria is in the midst of a boom that has grown the country’s middle class. As a result, Victoria Island, which boasts one of the world’s highest concentrations of millionaires, has attracted boutiques like Hugo Boss and Ermenegildo Zegna, plus luxe Nigerian-owned concept stores like Alara, which opens this month. Housed in a David Adjaye–designed glass structure with a textile-inspired metalwork facade, Alara stocks Valentino and Stella McCartney, as well as homegrown designers like Lanre DaSilva Ajayi and Maki Oh’s Amaka Osakwe. Thanks in part to press from glossies like T and W, a growing number of Nigerian designs—which often incorporate traditional wax-print fabrics—can be seen in the U.S., on tastemakers like Michelle Obama.

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Bogotá, Colombia (pop. 8.7 million)

The Next Great Arts Scene

The first time many people heard of Bogotá’s ascendant art scene was in the fall of 2013, when Justin Bieber was photographed tagging a wall there. In a unique twist of fate, his brief foray into the world of street art followed just a month behind the publication of Phaidon Press’ Art Cities of the Future: 21st Century Avant-Gardes, which listed the Colombian capital as one of the top 12 emerging arts destinations in the world. In an accompanying essay, curator José Roca argued that Bogotá’s spirit of wild experimentation came as a direct result of the country’s (understandable) isolation, caused by decades of internecine strife. As artists from New York to Venice to London wrestled with navigating the cutthroat art market and courting collectors and appealing to critics and trying to say something brand new, he argued, all eyes were off the no-go zone of Colombia. And freed from those pressures, local artists honed their craft. When peace and prosperity hit the capital in the mid-2000s, international collectors started to take notice and were shocked to find a fully formed arts powerhouse that had been quietly developing under their noses for decades. Major museums in New York and London began sending curatorial scouts; Colombian creative types began returning from their self-imposed exiles abroad; and Bogotá-based artists began gaining notice on the international stage. Doris Salcedo, for one, received raves for 2007’s “Shibboleth,” a long crack in the floor of the massive Turbine Hall at London’s Tate Modern. Plus, outside the sleek contemporary galleries that have started popping up throughout Bogotá by the dozen, there’s an equally vibrant street art scene—brash, colorful, political, punk—where real artists are putting the Biebs to shame on a daily basis.

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Fukuoka, Japan (pop. 1.5 million)

The Next Great Foodie Pilgrimage

Kicked off in 2004 by NYC chef David Chang, America’s ramen obsession has ventured as far afield as Oklahoma City and given birth to such culinary oddities as the ramnut, a noodle-donut hybrid, and the Ramen Burger™, served with a bun made out of the trendy noodles. However, as adventurous ramen mashups continue to captivate the Internet, a growing number of purists are calling for a return to the soup’s roots. For lovers of tonkotsu (pork bone) ramen, with its rich, creamy broth, al dente noodles and pickled ginger, all roads lead to Fukuoka, a city on Japan’s southernmost island of Kyushu. Last July, the city received its first-ever Michelin guide, with no fewer than 11 ramen restaurants mentioned. But there’s more to this city than just a single dish. Fukuoka is famous throughout Japan for the variety and quality of its street food. Each evening, more than 150 yatai, or open-air food stalls, spring up across the city with a dazzling array of specialties, like motsunabe (an offal and cabbage hot pot) and iwashi mentaiko (roe-stuffed grilled sardines). Best of all, unlike similar markets in Singapore and Bangkok, Fukuoka has yet to be discovered by the camera-toting Western tourist set, leaving the yatai feeling truly authentic and locals-only. The city’s cuisine is even making inroads stateside: Fukuoka-born ramen chain Ippudo already has two NYC outposts, and competitor Ichiran is set to join them later this year.

One Response to “The World’s Next Great Cities”

  1. A. De George Says:
    April 9th, 2015 at 10:21 pm

    Houston? Really? Houston is a big, dirty, overcrowded, traffic congested, crime-ridden, hot and sweaty city. You can tour the museum district in one or two days. Unless you want to afford to eat out often at the hip and trendy places, there’s not much else to do besides the Rodeo and Stock Show, which is excellent. “Melting pot”?… sadly, it’s a melting pot of crime.

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