Big cities tend to be quite gray. Skyscrapers, pavements, cars – it’s all very monotonous and uninspiring. Thankfully, many urban designers and creative people out there have been working hard to come up with clever solutions to defy this stereotype. Here are some of the best urban design ideas that connect people to their cities.
These public punching bags installed in New York City.
Created by design studio donttakethisthewrongway, these bright yellow public punching bags were installed in Manhattan back in 2019. As part of the New York City Design Week 2019, the inspiration for this art installation was the frustrations that we all face. The designers wanted to offer an outlet for these personal issues in a public setting.
In Germany you can play “street pong” while waiting to cross the road.
In Germany, pedestrians can play ping pong while they wait to cross the road. This installation was created by engineering students from HAWK university and quickly became a hit. Imagine getting to play a quick game of ping pong with a stranger across the street while waiting for the red light. Brilliant!
“That’s what we germans do with discarded phone booths. You may take books in return for placing another one.”
This is such a great idea. Instead of removing old phone booths that are no longer needed, Germany recycled the installations. Now, they are used as tiny libraries that anyone can use. The rule is that if you take a book, you should replace it with a new one.
“These swings at my local park let you swing with your baby.”
Being a parent usually means you have to stand up for hours while pushing your children on the swing. This park came up with a great solution to entertain parents and kids alike: swings with one seat for the parent and one for the baby.
This traffic light in Singapore allows senior citizens to tap their cards to add more time to cross the streets.
At some intersections in Singapore, senior citizens and persons with disabilities can use their identification cards to hold up the traffic for a few extra seconds. This ensures that everyone can safely cross the road without worrying about traffic.
This rotating public bench always has a dry side.
There’s nothing worse than trying to find a dry bench after a rain shower. This is why these rotating benches are so clever. Using a handle, you can rotate the wooden paneling on the seat, ensuring you always have a dry surface to sit on.
Manhole covers in Oklahoma City have maps with a white dot to show where you are.
This idea is so simple, yet so clever. Manhole covers in Oklahoma City have the city map with a white dot representing its location. This way, everyone always knows where they are and fewer people get lost around the city. Brilliant.
There are rails under these benches so you can always be in the shade.
Whoever came up with this idea is an absolute genius. Instead of placing stationary benches on the ground, they placed them on top of rails to allow people to move them. This means no one has to sit under the scorching hot midday sun, all you need to do is push the bench until it’s under the shade.
Many tourist spots in Tennessee have viewfinders for the colorblind.
Tennessee first introduced the Color Blind Viewer back in 2017 to help visitors see the beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains as realistically as possible. This viewfinder’s lenses allow people with red-green colorblindness to see colors as they have never seen before.
This computer repair shop was painted to look like a Windows 98 desktop.
This is such a creative way to advertise your business. Instead of having a regular sign like all the other stores, this computer repair shop decided to use their ingenuity. This proves that with a little creativity anyone can stand out from the crowd.
These Bicycle racks have small roofs to protect the bike seats from rain.
Since it rains all year round in Denmark, people need to always be prepared. In fact, this place in Copenhagen came up with a great way to keep everyone’s bike seats from getting wet. They added small covers to their bicycle racks in order to keep the saddles dry.
Copenhagen has public hammocks made of sustainably sourced material.
The architects responsible for this project wanted to create comfortable seating facilities in public areas of Copenhagen. They noticed that leisure areas and parks lacked a relaxed and comfortable seating option, so they created colorful hammocks as an alternative to rigid public benches.
These metal grates prevent high heels from getting stuck.
This metal grate design is a great solution for many women out there. High heels have a tendency of getting stuck in the tiniest of gaps, so walking on drain grates can be quite a difficult task. This step pattern could save many people from getting their shoes stuck and tripping in the middle of the street.
There are foldable tulip seats in the Netherlands that rotate 360° to follow the trajectory of the sun.
This tulip-shaped chair was first added to parks and streets in Eindhoven, in the Netherlands, for the Dutch Design Week in 2011. Tulpi, as the chair model is called, can rotate 360 degrees, which means it always faces the sun. It also closes by itself once you stand up to remain dry and clean.
IN Osaka, Japan, Old Phone Booths were turned into Aquariums.
Phone booths are definitely not as useful as they were years ago. This is why many of them have been transformed into aquariums in the city of Osaka, Japan. It all started in 2011, when a group of students called Kingyobu (“goldfish club”) started turning old phone booths into lively ecosystems around the city.
This picnic table has seating for adults, kids, and people on wheelchairs all in one.
This is a truly versatile picnic table. The same piece of furniture can be used by adults, kids, babies who need a high chair, and people who use wheelchairs. We definitely love how practical and inclusive this is and wish we would see this type of furniture more often in our local parks.
In Seoul, the gas pumps hang from the roof.
This might be a confusing sight at first, but it’s actually a very smart idea. Instead of having gas pumps on the ground, this gas station in South Korea installed nozzles in the ceiling. This way, you don’t have to worry about pulling up at the right side of the pump – you will always be able to reach your fuel door.
This picnic table at the park has an overhang for wheelchair users.
This picnic table is so practical and inclusive, we believe it should be used in more public spaces around the world. By adding some extra inches at the end of the table, wheelchair users get a comfortable spot to sit around the table and eat comfortably.
These shopping carts in Budapest have built-in magnifying glasses.
This is such a simple, yet genius invention that can help lots of people doing their groceries. A supermarket in Budapest designed its shopping carts to have built-in magnifying glasses, this way customers can read products’ labels more easily. So clever!
Technicolor basketball court in Paris.
Squeezed in between two old buildings in Paris, this basketball court is an awesome concept. It was just an oddly-shaped, unused urban lot in the city’s ninth arrondissement before some designers saw its potential. In 2015 it was turned into an awesome (and useful) public space where people can go play some basketball with their friends.
This phone booth is now a WiFi hotspot, free library, and has USB outlets to charge your phone.
Since phone booths are no longer as useful as they used to be, the city of Shanghai decided to transform these public spaces into something more practical. Now, the old phone booths in the Chinese city are used as free public libraries that also provide free wifi and USB ports for charging your phone.
This fake beach along the Seine river in Paris.
Created in 2002, the Paris-Plage project installs temporary artificial beaches every summer along the river Seine. Every July and August, roads on the banks of the Seine are closed off for traffic and numerous events are hosted in the area. Lucky Parisians.
This bus station in Montreal has swings.
Instead of waiting for the bus sitting on a regular bench, at this bus stop in Montreal, you can wait while swinging. This invention turns a boring, monotonous activity into something fun and exciting. We would love to have one of these swings at our local bus stops.
This glow-in-the-dark bike path in Poland.
The population of Lidzbark Warmiński in Poland very lucky. Back in 2019, a sun-powered glow-in-the-dark bike path was installed to keep cyclists and pedestrians safe at night. The bike path absorbs sun rays during the day and lights up when it’s dark, making this invention not only awesome but environmentally friendly.
Sun-powered lounge chairs created by MIT students.
Called Soft Rocker, this lounge chair absorbs sun rays during the day and uses that energy to light up at night. Besides its ergonomic design, the chair has another awesome feature: the energy it stores can be used to charge electronic devices through USB.
These self-cleaning roads in South Korea.
Some roads in South Korea have studs that spray water. These studs act as temperature control devices. That is, in the winter, this system sprays saltwater to defrost the asphalt. In the summer, it sprinkles water in order to clean and cool down the road.
This clever umbrella over a bus stop.
Who says bus stops all have to look the same? This is a perfect example of a creative design that mixes fun and practicality. We don’t know about you, but we would love to take a seat under this giant umbrella and comfortably wait for our bus on that bench.
“Levitating” lounge chairs at Sydney University.
These might be the coolest chairs we have ever seen. We would absolutely love to visit the University of Sydney and check them out for ourselves because it’s hard to believe these can even be real. Whoever designed them definitely knew a lot about physics. These were installed back in 2009 and are still standing years later.
“My school’s library has noise-level guides that change color when it gets too loud.”
We wish they would implement this system all over the world. This is a great way of making sure the library is silent without librarians having to tell people to keep it quiet. This also helps study groups know if they are being too loud. Brilliant and polite, we love it!
This trash can has a bottle rack so no one has to dig through the garbage to find some bottles and cans.
This bottle rack is a great solution to help people who take bottles and cans from the trash can to be recycled. By placing empty containers on the outside of the bin, you spare these people from reaching into the garbage and rummaging through the trash to find bottles.
This building has optional Beast Mode stairs.
If you are one of those people who always climb three steps at a time when taking the stairs, you will love this design. This building has regular, short steps and tall steps that they call ‘beast mode’. Now you can climb the stairs one (large) step at a time without attracting any weird looks.
A brick facade that appears to have melted off the building.
This awesome urban intervention was created by designer Alex Chinneck, who wanted to create an illusion of a brick facade melting off the side of a building and into its front yard. This piece was installed in a British town called Margate and made lots of locals confused wondering how a house could have simply melted down.
“My school has a public work stand for bikes with tools and a QR code for common repair help.”
This school has a lot to teach to other institutions! By installing a public work stand, they ensure their students will never have to miss classes to fix their only means of transportation. Besides, the QR code with repair help is a great way of teaching students how to fix their own bikes without having to pay someone for something they could have easily done.
A sunken observation platform at a park in Austria.
This observation deck has become a popular attraction for locals and tourists who want to observe the pond very closely. From afar, visitor’s heads poke out as if they were swimming in the water. This is a great place to sit and enjoy nature from up-close.
“My university library has a wall where you can literally take a seat.”
This is such a creative solution for a small public space. Instead of having numerous stools scattered around the library, they keep all the seats neatly placed in the wall and only remove them when needed. We absolutely love clever ideas that look great and work even better.
This motorcycle parking with built-in chain and locker in Sweden.
Talk about innovation! This motorcycle parking in Sweden provides chains to attach to your bike’s wheels and lockers for your helmet and gear. Not only do the lockers fit all your bike gear, including boots, but there’s also no extra charge for using them as long as you pay for parking.
This subway car in Seoul has a mini-library.
There’s no better time to read a good book than when you are on public transportation. So if you have a few minutes or an hour to kill, this subway car in Seoul has got you covered. There’s a small public library where you can take a book and pass the time while you commute.
These awesome outside-in Benches in Luxembourg.
Part of a much larger urban project, these benches were installed in the town of Esch-Sur-Alzette in Luxemburg. The idea behind this design was to concentrate seating areas and trees into “islands”, leaving room for pedestrians to walk freely and becoming focal points in otherwise empty areas.
This kinetic sidewalk generates electricity when you walk on it.
This is the kind of urban installation that proves we are living in the future. A kinetic sidewalk was installed in Dupont Circle, Washington, and we can all agree that it’s a brilliant idea. The concept is simple: when people walk on the sidewalk, it generates electricity. Awesome.
At Cleveland airport, you can practice CPR while waiting for your flight.
This is a very smart idea. Waiting at the airport can be quite tedious, but it can also be the perfect time to learn something new. Instead of sitting by your gate for hours, you can use these machines for a few minutes to learn how to do CPR on people in emergency situations.
This bench doubles as a desk.
The simplicity and practicality of this bench are simply incredible. Designed by Alfredo Haberli, the El Poeta bench can be used as a regular bench or as a bench-desk combo. Even though it can be used as numerous pieces of furniture, its sleek design ensures that the bench takes up as much space as a regular street bench.
“The stairwell at my university: each floor is painted a different color.”
Not only are these colors super cool to look at, but this idea also helps students figure out how much they have to climb to get to their classroom. With monochromatic stairs, you can’t ever really know how much longer you have to climb before getting to the floor you need to get to.
This theater marquee describes the current stage of construction.
This is such a clever way of making sure people don’t forget your business during a renovation. By keeping the public updated on its construction status, the theater reminds its customers that it will be open again soon. Besides, the marquee on its own becomes a small attraction for pedestrians.
“My school has racks in the front office for kids to put their skateboards on during the day.”
This is such a small detail, but it makes all the difference. By creating a designated area for kids’ skateboards, this school ensures that students won’t have to worry about carrying their boards everywhere and will be more focused on their classes.
This typewriter bench.
This is such a creative way of making a public space more fun. Instead of installing a regular bench on this street, a very innovative designer came up with the concept of a typewriter bench. We would love to have something like this in our city!
In Beijing, you can pay for the train with water bottles for recycling.
This brilliant idea teaches the population on a daily basis about how easy it is to recycle. By offering people an incentive such as a train ticket, they will slowly become more accustomed to the routine of recycling their plastic bottles. In the long run, this small action can make a huge change in the world.
Space-saving bike racks that don’t take up any sidewalk space when they’re not in use.
Such a clever idea. This minimalist bike rack can be folded down when it’s not being used, making it practically invisible for pedestrians. When cyclists need to park their bikes, all they need to do is pull the racks back up and lock their bikes as they would do with any other bike rack.
This elevator has foot buttons.
This is a great idea that should be implemented everywhere in the world. There is nothing more inconvenient than trying to press an elevator button while holding ten heavy bags from the supermarket. Whoever came up with foot buttons deserves a prize for their creativity.
“This soundproof box for cell phones was just installed in my mom’s office.”
We love a good invention with a throwback style. This soundproof box combines the idea of a phone booth and a conference room to create a private space for your phone calls. Next time someone in that office needs to take a quick phone call, they won’t have to rush downstairs – they can just walk to the phone box.
These boards installed at a traffic light so you don’t have to get off your bike while waiting.
This idea is so simple yet so brilliant. By installing boards and handrails by traffic lights, this city is making sure cyclists can wait in safety instead of getting off their bikes every time the light turns green. We would love to see this in more cities around the world.
All of the buttons on this soda machine are a surprise.
This is such a cool concept. Instead of showing each soda option it has, this soda machine is like a blind date with a fizzy drink. For only 25 cents, you can have a nice surprise and possibly even try a soda you’ve never had before – or spend another 25 cents buying a second can of soda in hopes you will like your second choice better than the first.
This guitar store that looks like a Fender amplifier.
If there’s one thing we love, it’s cool stores that brighten up boring streets. This guitar store is also a great example of how a little creativity can drive people to your business without any effort. In general, we just hope more stores would be as innovative as this one.
This awesome Wheelchair Swing at the park.
Kids should all have equal rights to play. But unfortunately, it’s a little harder for kids on wheelchairs to get on swings. This is why this invention is so perfect: it allows children who need wheelchairs to roll onto the swing and play like the other kids. We absolutely love this awesome inclusive playground and wish we could see more of this idea everywhere.
This cozy hammock by a lake in Poland.
Back in 2014, the city of Tychy installed a large hammock by the shore of Paprocany Lake. There are also benches behind the hammock, which are specially designed to double as stands for water sports competitions organized on the lake.
This system of root-like benches that spreads through a South Korean public park.
This is equally beautiful and practical, which is just what every city needs. We particularly love how this sculpture makes it possible for numerous people to take a seat at the same time without the awkwardness of having to wait for other people to get up so that they can sit down for a while.
THis secret bookshelf at The mystery section in San Jose State University’s library.
So clever! This library has a secret door in their mystery section that rotates to show you a fake bookshelf with more books. While the books on this hidden shelf are not real, only cut-off ends of books glued in place, this is still a great way of keeping the library fun.
This zipper road marking.
This is such clever street art! We love how this artist took something that we see many times a day and transformed it completely. Usually, we get used to everyday things and stop paying attention to them, but not this person – they could see that these yellow lines looked like a zipper and painted a fastener on the ground so that other people could see it too.
This very practical vertical parking solution in New york.
Public parking can be quite tricky in big cities. There are way too many cars on the streets and not enough space for all of them to park. This is why people have to get creative and come up with new solutions for problems like this.
This train station has a library book vending machine.
Some people spend hours of their lives every week on the train. A book vending machine at the station is a great way to always keep people entertained on their journeys and make their experience a little more pleasant. Besides, quiet train rides are the best opportunities to read a good book.
These steps come with an extra choice: slides.
If you have to climb many flights of stairs every single day, you know how tedious it can get. This is why this place offers a fun option for pedestrians: a slide. Instead of going down all those steps, you can simply slide all the way down. Quick and easy.
These parking lines up the wall that help people park straight.
Such a small detail, but such a great way of helping people park inside the lines. It might sound like a minor inconvenience, but there is nothing more annoying than thinking you have parked inside the lines only to open your car door and realize you actually parked over the line. These wall markings are simply genius.