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Art makes a fresh statement at MAXXI, a museum in Rome featuring 21st-century works. (Photograph by Max Galli, laif/Redux)

Trending Urban: Reinventing the City

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In 1982 I left New York City for a long stint in Knoxville, Tennessee. It was about to host the World’s Fair in an attempt to increase its global profile, still smarting from the Wall Street Journal’s dismissive opinion of it as a “scruffy little city on the Tennessee River.” Which it was.

Today this place, once eager to become more citified, has grown comfortable with its simple livability, its state leadership in green energy, its proximity to astonishing natural beauty, and its Appalachian cultural and musical roots. (In fact, it recently announced the first annual Scruffy City Comedy Festival, to be held this November.)

There was a time when I could not wait to leave Knoxville; today I would love to return there to live. It symbolizes how cities, and what we value in them, are evolving: All of the cities I have called home—including Montreal, London, San Francisco, New York, and Washington, D.C.—are now preserving their essential character while adapting to a changing world.

Traditionally we have molded our lives to accommodate the physical dictates of cities. That is changing—fast. Our cities increasingly are reflecting the architecture and aspirations of tomorrow in their buildings, street life, social connectivity, technologies, transportation systems—even how they welcome and entertain travelers.

From creative lighting and green spaces to “living buildings” and the repurposing of once abandoned structures, we’re making our cities work harder for us and, in the process, reshaping them to better accommodate our evolving lifestyles.

By 2050, it’s predicted, 70 percent of the world will live in cities. Today’s hotbeds of innovation and imagination, cities in the future also will be easier, more nurturing places to live and work. It’s important to take note of how cities are changing—and how the changes might change us.

Look for Nat Geo Travel’s new book, World’s Best Cities, which celebrates 220 great destinations—from Portland and Paris to Miami and Mumbai.

> Reader Question: What’s your favorite up-and-coming city? Tell us your thoughts in the comment section below.