Time Out, an online platform for urban culture that looks for the most vibrant locations around the globe, has recently ranked the 30 coolest streets in the world. The website, which usually focuses on cities as a whole, having already ranked the coolest neighborhoods, is now taking a more local approach due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to the article, a global survey on the website asked more than 27,000 city dwellers from all over the world to choose the coolest street in their city. Time Out editors and experts then listed 30 streets, ten of them in Europe, five in Latin America, five in North America, four in Asia, two in Oceania, two in Africa, and two in the Middle East, including cities such as Havana, São Paulo, Los Angeles, Lisbon, Prague, Johannesburg, and Tel Aviv.
The criteria for the selection were not based on aspects of urban design but rather on the activities and experiences provided by the streets. The organizers believe that cool streets are determined by great places to eat, drink, and shop. These 30 streets offer fun and urban culture, sometimes more local, sometimes more global, but always with a strong sense of community.
The first in the ranking is Smith Street in Melbourne, Australia. It is located in a suburban neighborhood that was once dominated by gangs, later becoming home to the LGBTQIA+ community, artists, and many different venues. The urban design is not outstanding: it is a secondary road for cars and trams, with low-rise buildings. The visual pollution created by billboards and posters seems to be part of the scene. This street was selected because of its various types of venues and activities. The buildings all follow the same setback along the length of the street, which creates active and appealing facades for bars, pubs, restaurants, and stores, as well as some outdoor spaces on the sidewalks.
At number two, Passeig de Sant Joan in Barcelona, Spain, on the other hand, features an interesting urban design, although it is not the main reason for its selection. Located in the planned area of the city, the street is not one of Barcelona's famous diagonal avenues but has similar characteristics, having buildings of the same height, all with the same setback from the street, wide sidewalks prioritizing pedestrians and cyclists, and carefully designed landscape architecture along the entire street, including small squares along the way. This street runs from north to south through the planned city center and offers a variety of activities, from more traditional bars and restaurants to stores dedicated to comic books and geek culture.
In contrast to the first two streets, in terms of length and scale, Singapore's Haji Lane, ranked eighth in the selection, is a narrow pedestrian-only street located in Kampong Gelam, a historic neighborhood and ethnic enclave for the Muslim community in the 1800s. The street has been restored and refurbished over the years, but the original aesthetics of the old two-story dwellings remain almost untouched. This narrow lane between two rows of small terraced houses contrasts with Singapore's large skyscrapers and wide boulevards, offering visitors a different experience of the city.
At number 21, Mexico City's Paseo de la Reforma is where everything happens, from major political demonstrations to art performances. The street dates back to the early nineteenth century when Emperor Maximilian I issued the order to build a street to connect Castillo de Chapultepec with the Palacio Nacional. This long and wide historical street features trees along the sidewalks, tall buildings, and heavy traffic of cars and buses. People don't just come for the activities offered by the many venues such as galleries and restaurants, they also come to gather and walk freely through the large-scale open space of the wide street and sidewalks.
According to Time Out, "[these streets] are microcosms of everything we love about cities – destination-worthy dining, vibrant local culture, tons of history." So looking at the 30 selected streets, we notice that there is no pattern or standard in terms of design, but a rather striking contrast between the urban landscapes of these streets. However, one aspect that appears in all of them is the history that they represent. Many of them are located in previously degraded neighborhoods but are now going through a regeneration process, retaining strong and meaningful ties to the past. A great example of this is the Rua Três Rios, in Bom Retiro, one of São Paulo’s most historic neighborhoods, a street that has been home to multiple generations of immigrant families who have relocated to Brazil throughout the centuries – from Italy, Korea, Greece, Bolivia, Eastern Europe and elsewhere. At number seven in the ranking, this street offers one of the city’s most exciting gastronomic and cultural landscapes.
All the streets share a cosmopolitan atmosphere reflected by the activities they offer, not necessarily because of their appearance. This ranking inspires us to think about our cities not only in terms of urban design but also considering the vibrant life that surrounds them and the many ways of experiencing the city.