The 2014 GOOD City Index

Seoul, South Korea

Seoul is #20 on The 2014 GOOD City Index.

As one of the world’s largest urban areas, Seoul can feel both exciting and lonely. Rickety food stalls sit outside gleaming corporate headquarters while a new Seoul City Hall stands proudly over its colonial predecessor. In progressive steps this year, the city’s much-loved Mayor Park Won-soon became the first South Korean politician to publicly support same-sex marriage while the city sent an advance specialist team to West Africa to aid in the global effort against Ebola. In addition, Seoul marked its one-year anniversary of its “Sharing City” initiative, which aims to leverage the city’s population density to promote the sharing of resources. The past year has also seen the city more divided than usual due to the sinking of the Sewol ferry, which shook the city’s faith in its leaders. However, in a city long defined by conformity, the increasing willingness of Seoul’s residents to challenge their leaders bodes well for the future.

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Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Dubai is #19 on The 2014 GOOD City Index.

Dubai is fast emerging as a city of economic stability in a region often marred by social, civic, and religious uprisings. As tensions in the Middle East continue to rise, displaced Arab tycoons and entrepreneurs from neighboring countries are redirecting their business to Dubai. Preparations are now in full swing for the 2020 World Expo, the first to be held in the Middle East, and Dubai residents are gearing up to tout the progress of their rapidly-developing city on a global stage. In the meantime, Dubai continues to be a city of superlatives. In January, the city broke the Guinness World Record for the largest fireworks display; in July, plans were announced to build the Mall of the World, the world’s largest mall that will include sections inspired by New York City’s Broadway and London’s Oxford Street. Further, city officials announced plans in March to digitize 1,000 government services over the next three years. The dizzying pace and somewhat haphazard nature of urban development does occasionally undermine Dubai’s progress and threaten to unravel the older neighborhoods such as Satwa, Karama, Bur Dubai, and Deira that have developed over the decades. The city’s original promenade—Jumeirah Beach Road—may appear drastically different today compared to its humble and sparse beginnings as a fishermen district, but it’s not all that unusual for a city in which possibility is fast becoming a form of currency.

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Christchurch, New Zealand

Christchurch is #18 on The 2014 GOOD City Index.

Christchurch continues to feel the effects of the devastating 6.3 magnitude earthquake that struck the city almost four years ago. While thousands remain uncertain of the fate of their homes—roughly 13,000 houses were damaged in the quake—the construction of “the new Christchurch” progressed tremendously in 2014. Earlier this year, the government and the Christchurch City Council signed off on a housing accord to relieve soaring rents. And amid the frustration and heartbreak, the chance to start again has brought opportunities for entrepreneurial individuals. The council, trying to fill the once-empty CBD, has invited new businesses to take hold, leading to a variety of food trucks, pop-up restaurants, and street art festivals in the heart of Christchurch. The race is on to help Christchurch 2.0 reach its full potential.

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Melbourne, Australia

Melbourne is #14 on The 2014 GOOD City Index.

Melbourne is at once a rebel and a class act. The dynamic and independent arts scene means creative spaces and projects flourish, while engaged citizens, artists, and entrepreneurs realize they can achieve things here that simply would not be possible elsewhere. The past year has seen rapid gentrification creep into even the most neglected areas of the city. In the CBD and many inner-city suburbs, huge rent increases have forced many businesses and residents to leave, while critics have denounced so-called efforts at regeneration as a threat to the city’s diversity. But, even as their space becomes contested, the city’s creative community has shown remarkable resilience. For every live music venue or artist studio under threat, a new one pops up. As areas that were once bastions of bohemia become unaffordable, members of Melbourne’s creative class explore pockets of the city that they previously overlooked.

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Belgrade, Serbia

Belgrade is #13 on The 2014 GOOD City Index.

Over the centuries, Belgrade has rebuilt itself from the ground up no less than 40 times after near destruction in some 115 different wars. But a more lasting Belgrade is finally emerging. This year, homophobic policies of the past finally softened, leading to the first peaceful gay pride parade since 2010—albeit one with a hefty police presence. In a show of Belgrade’s increasingly global stature, public intellectual Alain de Botton opened a branch of his popular School of Life institute, which boasts a progressive curriculum focused on emotional intelligence. And, while the political instability of the past two decades means Belgrade has yet to reach the tourism status of its former Yugoslavian neighbor Croatia, a 3-billion euro renewal of the Savamala waterfront area aims to change that. Belgrade’s days as nothing more than a post-communist relic are decidedly over.

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Budapest, Hungary

Budapest is #8 on The 2014 GOOD City Index

Budapest is in the midst of a heated dialogue about its future. Earlier this year, alongside the re-election of conservative Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, there was a rise in votes for the ultra-conservative Jobbik party, whose values include anti-Semitic and anti-Roma sentiments. And, while gay pride parades are a cause for celebration in most other cities around the world, the one in Budapest this summer was marred by bullying and death threats to LGBT campaigners. But 2014 also saw a growing and inspiring counterculture asserting itself. In August, “Pimpikes Dream,” an LGBT-friendly community center opened in District V and in November, the prime minister was forced to shelve a plan for an internet tax, after record numbers of protesters in Budapest loudly rejected the idea. Events like the globally crowdsourced design contest for Liget Budapest and the internationally recognized ArtMarket Budapest show how creativity and ingenuity are pushing back against the tide of repressive policies.

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