More and more, products are being designed for the emerging shareable world and the Amsterdam-based Pop-Up City keeps a forward-looking eye out, collecting the latest and greatest “creative solutions regarding flexible urbanism and architecture.” Here, the global thinking informs the local acting, and vice versa. The Pop-Up City's consideration process asks these questions: Is the current practice of urban planning, development, and architecture still up-to-date considering the rapid processes of change today’s cities are dealing with? Does every building still have to be built for perpetuity? And why doesn’t it make more sense to explore opportunities for more rising and disappearing, loose, temporary, and flexible manners of spatial planning and architecture?

Here are 10 of the top urban innovations recently spotlighted on the Pop-Up City:

1. Modular Office Cubicles

As an alternative to the standard functional-but-ugly office cubicle, the design team at Molo created a system of modular, accordion-style walls fabricated from kraft paper. Flexible, expandable, movable, sound-dampening… the walls have it all. Assembly requires a couple of people, but no tools as the walls are connected by detachable magnetic strips.

2. Public Space Hacks

After three students at Les Ateliers-Paris Design Institute (ENSCI) joined forces to run Fabrique | Hacktion, they proceeded to put their own spin on the world of urban space. They design and produce open-source prototypes through the school's Fab-Lab which provides them a quick turnaround from an idea's seed to a product's harvest. The team has turned old phone booths into charging stations for cell phones; they've added coat racks to walls in public spaces; and they've added information light boards to the top of train station ticket machines.

3. 10,000 Eyes Watching Over

The Police Department of the City of Rotterdam recently launched a community-based anti-crime campaign in the district of Delfshaven called the 10,000 Eyes campaign which involved, yes, 10,000 eyes being painted on the pavement in various public spaces including tram stops and metro stations. The goal, to let the neighborhood know that someone was always watching. To drive the point further home, two 10-square-meter eyes were affixed to a tower of the Europoint building.

4. Modular Urban Gardens

As parklets and pocket parks sprout up in cities around the world, people will, no doubt, find interesting ways to build on the idea of adding a touch of green into stark urban environments. Ever on the cutting edge, Tokyo's Roppongi district showcases such a twist with some modular farms from ON Design Partners. What are basically glass boxes house small vegetable gardens for neighborhood restaurants, integrating urban agriculture in a classy way.

5. Community Gardens

Pocket parks and modular farms are but two pieces of the puzzle that is drawn around turning ecologically threatening environments like cities into ecologically beneficial ones. Urban agriculture, taken as a whole, is bigger than that, though. And it provides quite a few more of those puzzle pieces, including cheaper, healthier, local food. Community garden projects also offer opportunities for city dwellers to get into nature in some small way, to develop a kinship with the land and the other garden-centric people in their midst.

6. Social Sofas

Cities often contain millions of people bustling through their streets, often completely detached from their surroundings and from each other. Karin Bruers set out to change that by providing comfortable, inviting spaces for people to gather and interact. In Tilburg, the Netherlands, Bruers conceived of Social Sofa – durable, concrete benches colorfully decorated. Since the project's inception a few years ago, over 1,000 sofas have been dispatched in Tilburg with Belgium and China recently joining the fray.

7. Streetside Swings 

Adding whimsical touches to the built environment is a sure-fire way to engage citizens. And what's more whimsical than swings? When Bruno Taylor was finishing up his Masters in Industrial Design at the University of the Arts in London, he posited that “71% of adults used to play on the streets when they were young. 21% of children do so now. Are we designing children and play out of the public realm?” As a response to his own question, he installed swings at various bus stops around London. Other designers in other cities have also taken the notion to heart.

8. Rail Station Slide

Slides. They may well be more whimsical than swings … or, at least, equally so. ProRail, the Dutch railway maintenance company officially calls it a ‘transfer accelerator,’ but a slide by any other name is still, really, a slide. Situated adjacent to the stairs at the Overvecht station in the city of Utrecht, the slide provides a quick and playful entry to the station. HIK Ontwerpers gets credit for designing and installing the ‘transfer accelerator,’ as well as all of the giggles that have since ensued.

9. Hub Hotels

Rethinking ideas that we all take for granted can oftentimes lead to wonderfully innovative approaches. Amsterdam’s CityHub hotel does just that by turning the traditional notion of a hotel on its head. With CityHub, empty buildings will be filled with small cabin rooms that include the basics – a bed, a luggage rack, a light, a window, and a lock on the door. Although bathrooms will be shared, the rooms will only cost €20, making them the cheapest in Amsterdam and, quite likely, any other city in which they spring up.

10. Urban Picnic Space

Earlier in the summer, downtown Vancouver got a temporary wave of relaxation when Picnurbia came to town. Designed by the Loose Affiliates collective, the big yellow undulation of goodness highlighted the lack of public gathering spaces in the city. The temporary landscaping project was comprised of a 28-by-4-meter ‘über-picnic-blanket’ covered in artificial yellow grass with nine large umbrellas and five tables on its outskirts.

Kelly McCartney


Kelly McCartney |

Having won prestigious literary competitions in both grade school and junior high, I attended college with a Scripps Howard Foundation scholarship, earned a BA in Journalism, and interned at Entertainment

Things I share: I seek. I write. I think. I roam. I listen. I care. I wonder. I help. I flirt. I try. I dream. I grow.