We're in the middle of an urban renaissance. Cities around the world are building innovative infrastructure and carving out huge swaths of public space to encourage their inhabitants to get outside and to foster a healthy, green environment. Here, inspired by our favorite parts of our favorite cities, we detail what elements the Outside urban utopia would include, from accessible outdoor-exercise equipment to bike skyways.
Parks Just Up the Hill
Having parks in the middle of the city is great, but it’s hardly wilderness. Across from San Francisco, in the hills above Berkeley and Oakland, over 120,000 acres of regional parks stretch for 30 miles up and down the East Bay, providing pristine, wild nature within city limits. In the Oakland Hill’s Anthony Chabot Regional Park, you can bomb down a 8.5-mile mountain bike loop. In Berkeley’s Tilden Regional Park, you can get lost on 40 miles of hiking trails. And a 15-minute drive from downtown Oakland gets you into real redwoods in the Redwood Regional Park’s 1,800-acre coastal forest.
When lots of cyclists and pedestrians come together, the result can be annoying and dangerous. That’s why in our city we want a dedicated bike overpass that glides above crowded intersections. For inspiration, we looked to the bike capital of the world: Copenhagen. In 2014, the Danish city opened the Cykelslangen, an overpass that lifts cyclists above busy sidewalks, making for a safer, speedier commute.
Bike-Specific Traffic Lights
Large intersections can be dangerous for bicycles to navigate. Riders risk getting blindsided by right-turning cars or doored by someone who failed to Dutch Reach. That’s why cities around the world, and increasingly in the U.S., are incorporating bicycle-specific traffic lights, both on streets and bike paths, to give cyclists ample time to navigate intersections. Of course, our busy bike skyways would come complete with red and green lights, too.
Rivers Through the Middle of Town
If you live in Chicago, you don’t have venture far to get on a kayak. On the Chicago River, you can paddle through the canyons of the city’s concrete jungle, taking in one of the world’s most iconic skylines from the water. In our city, not only would people hop on the river for fun, they'd also paddle their way to work in the morning.
And Lakes, Too
There’s no better remedy on a hot, muggy summer day than to jump in a cool lake. But few have the time or motivation to drive an hour or two away from town to reach an unpolluted swimming hole. We want to jump in a lake right in the middle of the city. For inspiration, we looked to Seattle’s Green Lake Park, a leafy urban pond with public swimming, paddle boating, rowing, and a 5K track around the circumference.
Underground Bike Park
Getting to decent singletrack can be a trek for city dwellers. But building trails right in town would take up a lot of real estate. Enter Mega Underground Bike Park in Louisville, Kentucky, which provides a nice workaround: in 2004, carpenter Ray Petro turned a limestone cavern 100 feet under the city’s zoo into a mountain-bike paradise complete with 45 trails, jumps, and perfect weather year-round.
Inland Surf Park
It’s 2016, which means you don’t need to be anywhere near an ocean to go surfing. To surf picture-perfect man-made waves downtown, we'd model our park after Austin’s Nland Surf Park, which offers a flawless six-foot tall wave every 60 seconds.
Free Outdoor Exercise Equipment
In our city, no one will pay for a gym membership. We'd model our parks off ones throughout China and Australia that come complete with durable, weatherproof outdoor ellipticals, stationary bikes, rowing machine, bench presses, pull-up bars, and even ping-pong tables.
Apartments Designed for Bikes
Apartment buildings in our city wouldn’t even have parking for cars. We’d base them off this apartment building in Malmo, Sweden, which has built-in storage for residents’ rigs, elevators designed to fit them, and communal cargo bikes for everyone else.
Parks Integrated Into Buildings
The spaces surrounding skyscrapers and building complexes don’t have to be sterile concrete wastelands. Architects in cities around the world have found inventive new ways to incorporate green space into buildings. For example, Japan’s Namba Parks—an office and shopping complex in the city of Osaka—builds gardens throughout the canyon-like structure. In Milan, architects created a vertical forest in the heart of the city. And in Singapore, the urban greenery serves multiple purposes: the Solaris and Singapore Tower use verdant sky terraces as a way to drain and harvest rainwater.
Climbing Just Outside of Town
We don’t want to drive for several hours to access world-class crags. In this respect, we’d want our city to resemble Chattanooga. The town (we voted it one of the country's best) is bisected by the Tennessee River, which is lined with hard sandstone cliffs that offer everything from bouldering routes to technical trad climbing.
Solar Panels on Every Building
Solar is one of the most promising forms of renewable energy and it's currently cheaper than ever. We would emulate San Francisco, and require every building to install solar panels on its roof.
Free WiFi, But Only When the Air Is Clean
In order for our denizens to ‘Gram and Snap all their many rides, runs, swims, sends, and hikes, we will need free WiFi throughout town. And what better way to distribute a signal than birdhouses like the ones designed by Dutch architect Joris Lam that only operate when the air is clean? When the amount of pollution in the air reaches too high a level, the WiFi automatically shuts off.