Global Model Cities

According to projections by the United Nations, more than 60% of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050. Our cities have since then been experiencing economic, demographic, social, and environmental challenges. Thankfully, cities around the world have recognized the significance of planning, architecture, and design as a mitigation measure and response to the climate and social changes prevalent today. Global model cities have started inspiring positive transformations in planning and design that are helping improve the quality of people and the environment. As an architect and urban planner, I am always enthusiastic to share the top 10 cities that rank highest in terms of livability, resilience, smart city design, and safety, among others because of their best practices that our cities can learn from and follow.

The ranking of the 2021 Global Liveability Index for the world’s most livable cities reflected how well cities have so far handled the COVID-19 crisis. European cities that dominated the Index in previous years were not able to make it to the Top 10 list due to their vulnerability and increased strain on their healthcare resources and infrastructure. In contrast, New Zealand has been praised and acknowledged because of the way they managed and adapted to the health emergency. Strict lockdowns and the compliance of its citizens are among the reasons why New Zealand was able to quickly bounce back to normalcy that resembled pre-pandemic life. So, it is no surprise that Auckland is the most livable city for 2021 followed by Osaka, Adelaide, Wellington, Tokyo, Perth, Zurich, Geneva, Melbourne, and Brisbane. Osaka and Tokyo acquired high scores for stability, healthcare, infrastructure, education, and culture and the environment. Osaka is also ranked as the 8th “largest metropolitan economy in the world,” and the city’s strengths include its impressive urban regeneration projects, connectivity, lower cost of living, and flourishing technology and start-up developments, among others. What is also inspiring is their effort to prioritize and integrate green spaces with innovation. According to the city planning bureau of Osaka, “Greenery will function as the catalyst to generate new products, services and businesses that [will help] realise an improved quality of life.”

For the world’s most resilient or future-proof cities, JLL’s 2018 City Momentum Index’s Top 10 included San Francisco, Silicon Valley, New York, London, Boston, Los Angeles, Paris, Amsterdam, Toronto, and San Diego. The Index also illustrated how these cities invest in technology, quality of life, sustainability, physical and digital connectivity, and infrastructure to be able to adapt well into the future. Some of the top cities like San Francisco, New York, and London are also the world’s strongest technological hubs. Technological innovation is a main contributor to a city’s success. Today, we are highly dependent on technology, and cities that invest in an ecosystem that supports information and communications technology and innovative startups will be able to adapt better to new situations and solve challenges. Among the most pressing issues that resiliency measures must address are climate change, rapid population growth, diminishing natural resources, and increasing poverty. With the help of technology, communities and cities can thrive while being disaster-resilient and sustainable.


Out of 109 evaluated cities, the 2020 Smart City Index’s top 10 cities include Singapore, Helsinki, Zurich, Auckland, Oslo, Copenhagen, Geneva, Taipei, Amsterdam, and New York. Similar to the Global Liveability Index, the Smart City Index also reflected how technological advancements in the ranked cities helped address their needs amidst a global health emergency. Moreover, it also surveyed how cities integrate technology, liveability, and leadership in the urban setting. Singapore is undeniably the No.1 city as it is a global leader in smart mobility, efficient governance, healthcare, safety, sustainability, and overall liveability. One of its admirable upcoming healthcare projects is the master planning of the community-based Health City Novena. This project is an “integrated healthcare master plan development,” and by 2030 it will combine health services, research and education, commercial, leisure, and public spaces. Aside from hospitals, training and research centers, and schools, the development will also feature a central park; a community hub; a museum; healing greenery; sky bridges; and a well- connected network of public walkways, streets, and roads for efficient connectivity.


The Safe Cities Index 2019 ranked 60 cities based on 57 indicators encompassing health, digital, personal, and infrastructure security. The safest cities in the world are Tokyo at No. 1 followed by Singapore, Osaka, Amsterdam, Sydney, Toronto, Washington DC, Copenhagen, Seoul, and Melbourne. These cities got high marks for high-quality healthcare, disaster continuity planning, cyber security, and community-based policing, among others. Asian cities earned high scores in the Index as Osaka is leading in health security and Singapore in infrastructure and personal security. Even though Tokyo is among the most densely populated cities in the world, it is able to maintain a low overall crime rate, it has well-planned disaster resilience measures and the ability to rapidly recover from natural and man-made disasters, and its citizens benefit from excellent public health services, among others. The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has prepared “Disaster Preparedness Tokyo,” a manual to guide households on how to fully prepare for an earthquake and other disasters. The metropolitan government also manages the largest urban firefighting department in the world. In case of a major disaster, the Tokyo Rinkai Disaster Prevention Park will be the base of disaster management operations for the whole metropolitan area. The park can be transformed into a survival shelter for residents and features emergency response and coordination facilities, solar-powered charging stations, and warehouses for food and water supply, among others.


In 2018, the top 10 gateway cities of the world in terms of arrivals were Hong Kong, Bangkok, London, Macau, Singapore, Paris, Dubai, New York, Kuala Lumpur, and Istanbul. It is not a coincidence that the best airports are in the top gateway cities of the world. In the 2020 Skytrax World Airport Awards, the world’s best airports are Singapore Changi Airport, Tokyo International Airport Haneda, Hamad International Airport in Qatar, Incheon International Airport, Munich Airport, Hong Kong International Airport, Tokyo Narita Airport, Central Japan International Airport, Amsterdam Airport Schiphol, and Kansai International Airport.


The best practices we can learn from the world’s model cities are limitless. Having been blessed to have the opportunity to visit 1,000 cities in 75 countries, I have come to realize that there are five key components of successful cities and countries: visionary leadership, strong political will, appreciation of good urban planning, appreciation of good architecture and engineering, and good governance and management. With these, let us hope our own cities can also become model cities where everyone can enjoy the best quality of life well into the 21st century.

Image Source: Vision for Paris Smart City by 2050 by Vincent Callebaut