Off-Beat Design Hubs: The Cities Reinventing Themselves (And Transforming Urban Living)

Transforming derelict strip-clubs into boutique hotels, opening glass-bottom rooftop pools in brutalist buildings and inspiring economic change through cable cars, design is at the forefront of global development.

Palm Springs is a mecca for mid-century modernity. Singapore leads the way for green spaces in a high-density city. London, Tokyo and Miami have the most attended Design Weeks and Zurich is a lesson in public transport. But there are a host of design-driven cities that are probing even further, questioning existing methods, finding solutions and striving for social change using the medium of design. Transforming derelict strip-clubs into boutique hotels, opening glass-bottom rooftop pools in brutalist buildings and inspiring economic change through cable cars, design is at the forefront of global development.

Helsinki, Finland

A city built with its residents in mind, Helsinki is improving urban living by focusing on the wants and needs of its population. Public-transport services have been designed with the user in mind, such a bus service running as frequently as the London tube. Using its history of design - from the iconic Alvar Aalto's 60 stool that furnishes Apple stores worldwide to the Olof Bäckström's orange handled scissors found in kitchens around the world - design is engrained in Finland's DNA. The inclusive city is introducing public service centres that combine libraries, doctors' surgeries and supermarkets. Helsinki Design Week is over 10 years old and the Design District overflows with up-and-coming creators and bold concept stores such as Lokal. In short, Helsinki hasn't just put itself on the global design map, it has begun to dramatically transform it.

Toronto, Canada

Ears pricked up when Alphabet, the umbrella company that houses Google, announced it was turning 12 derelict acres on Toronto's waterfront into a tech community. On this savvy plot, sensors will monitor noise levels, air quality, energy use and travel patterns in order to ensure that residential requirements are efficiently catered to. Ambitious plans to build Canada's tallest building have been laid out, and on-trend high-rise structures covered with succulents and blooms are being built. Toronto is changing rapidly; the last 12 months have seen an ice-skating rink spring up beneath a highway while DesignAgency have turned a former strip club into a playful, boutique hotel. The Broadview Hotel combines the rustic glamour of film noir with the youthful vibe the regenerated Riverside neighbourhood has begun to take on.

Dundee, Scotland

A former economic powerhouse once renowned for its textile trade, Dundee's re-emerging contemporary fashion and arts scene, coupled with the wealth of digital media companies that call Dundee home, is cementing its place as the UK's cultural and design hotspot. The compact Scottish city is undergoing a huge revival with a £1 billion waterfront regeneration headed by the V&A Museum of Design. As part of the development, two new boutique hotels are taking residence in the historic Baxter Brothers and Co spinning mills. The newly appointed UNESCO Creative City, the first in the UK, will continue to turn heads as they strive to eradicate social problems such as unemployment and homelessness through community design initiatives and their annual design festival.

Medellin, Colombia

Prepare to shatter any preconceptions of notorious narcotic criminals and violent drug gangs as this once broken city has begun to repair itself. It's starting point: the Metrocable line where gondolas are soaring into metro stations. The use of cable cars to reach high up concentrations isn't pioneering, but the fact that they were purposefully built to transport some of the poorest communities is. Striving to tackle Medellin's most prominent urban problems, architect Alehandro Echeverri created five public libraries surrounded by lush greenery. The Modern Art Museum of Medellin is worth a visit too, as the internal-external walk-able terraces mirror the construction of the barrios that are piled on top of one another across the steep Andes valley.

Tbilisi, Georgia

The subtropical climate is not the only reason that the Georgian capital has topped travel charts in recent years. The government's firm focus on shredding the country's Soviet past has seen galleries revamped, colourful markets springing up and a surge in concept hybrid stores, such as the boutique-cum-coffee-shop O Moda Moda. Tbilisi's original design hotel, Rooms Hotel Tbilisi, is an ode to the beginning of this revival. The hand-printed wallpapers, rich velvet curtains and large windows showcasing award-winning artwork in the hotel courtyard will please even the most seasoned travel aesthete. Its sister property, Stamba Hotel, is set to push boundaries further with its five-storey jungle atrium and glass-bottom swimming pool, opening in spring 2018.

Cape Town, South Africa

Creativity in Cape Town is at an all-time high. Aiming to bridge the divide that has plagued the city, Cape Town is UNESCO's first African City of Design. On a grassroots level, this is apparent in numerous craft markets and the onstant flow of pop-up galleries, shops and creative community initiatives. Unlike other cities, Cape Town's design district isn't constricted to just one or two streets but instead stretches from the bohemian homes of Kalk Way to the street murals of The Fringe, Cape Town's design eco-system. The buzz-worthy Zeitz MOCCA also opened in late 2017, the first institution in the world dedicated to celebrating contemporary African art. For Cape Town, design seems to be a bold statement in South Africa's cultural development.

The black and yellow exterior of Prospect Cottage in Dungeness, Kent
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