The Best Urbanism Podcasts and Podcast Episodes [Updated]

[Originally posted: October 12, 2015 / Updated: September 23, 2017. New entries are marked]

Love Podcasts & Cities? This post is for you.

Podcast is the new king. Most of the journalism I consume is delivered to me by podcasts: This Week in Tech for technology, Planet Money for economics, Reply All and The Memory Palace for beautiful stories, and No Such a Thing as a Fish and How to Do Everything for facts I didn’t even know I needed. I follow over 30 podcasts, and the more successful podcasting gets, the more of them I discover.

In 2015, I started publishing a list urban planning and cities podcasts. Back then, the list was short, because there weren't too many podcasts on with the topic. Fortunately, in the past years, more and more podcasts dealing with urbanism. Here's the list


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99% Invisible

Brilliant, well-produced show about the unnoticed architecture and design that shape our world. Out of the many episodes dealing with cities, here are some of my favorites:

  • The White Elephant of Tel Aviv -  a building in Tel Aviv designed to be the largest bus station in the world. It didn't go as expected.
  • The Finnish Experiment - Everybody talks about universal basic income: the idea in which all citizens of a country, regardless of their employment status, receive a regular, unconditional sum of money. One country is actually trying the concept. This episode is not about cities per se, but we must think how we will shape our cities in a time where most citizens don't hold a regular job.
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Freakonomics

Not all Freakonomics’ podcast episodes are urban related, so if you don’t want to follow this anyhow-great-podcast, here are some episodes you should check:


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Half Hour Intern

Half Hour Intern is a podcast that explores the fascinating paths people take in life. Every episode, the host Blake Fletcher interviews people with different jobs and hobbies. He asks basic questions that many fail to ask: “How did they get started? Why did they get started? Did they get paid for this?!”.

  • Urban Planner - recently it was my turn to be interviewed on the Half Hour Intern podcast. We talked about urban planning, sidewalk design, cycling, and people-oriented urbanism. We also discussed the occupation possibilities of an urban planner: should one work for a local government or as a freelancer? All in all, enough reasons to listen to the podcast.

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Hidden Brain

In hidden Brain, the host Shankar Vedantam brings listeners a wealth of knowledge from social science research. Every episode explores another dimension that drive human behavior. Cities have a tremendous effect on people’s choices and behavior, so learning from behavioral economics and psychology research can help any urbanist.

  • The Unintended Consequences Of Trying To Fix Traffic - Traffic is ugly, but the science behind it -especially when it comes to the effects it has on our lives- is fascinating. Why building more roads doesn’t solves traffic congestion? What are the health consequences of exposure to traffic noise? And why banning drivers entering Mexico City a day a week had the reverse effect on air pollution?

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ITE Talks Transportation

  • Urban Planning Conversation with Brent Toderian - How can cities achieve sustainable density? Why aren't city rankings a reliable indicator for livability? Can our streets be more than a "car sewer"? Brent Toderian, Vancouver's former Chief Planner and founder at TODERIAN UrbanWORKS, is talking on these topics at ITE Talks Transportation. Not only does Toderian share his beliefs on city planning and design, but he also gives practical advice to planners around the world:  from the relationship between architects, planners, and engineers, to the way cities can involve residents in their planning processes.

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Placemakers

NEW! Slate’s well-produced podcast about the people behind our cities. Every episode deals with another American city and the heroes who make a difference in these places. The first episode set the scene: the heroic fight of Jane Jacobs against Robert Moses. From there, the podcast deals with a variety of topics: from BikeShare systems to Urban Renewal. Placemakers is not only for professionals, but also for the laymen, making urbanism accessible to everybody.


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Planet Money

Planet Money explains the economy better than any other source I know. They also describe themselves much better than I could: ‘Imagine you could call up a friend and say, "Meet me at the bar and tell me what's going on with the economy." Now imagine that's actually a fun evening. That's what we're going for at Planet Money.‘

  • How To Make It In The Food Truck Business - Everybody loves food trucks, and that is why they seem to be everywhere: in New York City alone there are roughly 3,000 food trucks and carts. This high supply, together with strict parking regulation, make it hard to succeed in the business. Food trucks entrepreneurs need to understand how sidewalks work to make it.
  • Why Did The Job Cross The Road? - Kansas City is straddling two states: Kansas and Missouri. What happens when the two states are competing on creating jobs within one urban area? One local attorney describes it as "probably the worst public policy in the history of the world."

  • Unbuilding A City - Why is it so hard to knock down empty, falling-apart buildings in shrinking cities? This episode deals with a single block in Baltimore that everyone wants to get abolished - but it still seems impossible to do.


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Question of the Day

Question of the Day (QOD) is sold as a fast-paced “show for listeners who are short on time and long on curiosity”. Every episode James Altucher and Stephen Dubner pose a question and try to answer it. They usually never get to a conclusive answer, but the way there is much more important. QOD teaches listeners that asking the right questions is many times more powerful than actually answering them.

  • NYC: Home of the ‘Rat Carpet’ - Is New York the greatest city in the world? In my opinion, no city is the “greatest”. That’s why I’m not a fan of city rankings. In any case, Dubner offers that NYC is so great because it has propinquity. Do you agree? I guess you'd first need to listen and realize what Propinquity means.
     
  • Is New York City Becoming Americanized? - Cities attract more and more people, and currently more than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas. But how do cities change by this influx of newcomers? Altucher and Dubner examine this topic by looking at New York.

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The Documentary by BBC World Service

The podcast is a collection of best of BBC World Service documentaries and other non-fictional programmes. In the beginning of 2016 they have released two episodes of a series called ‘Where Are You Going?’, by Catherine Carr.

  • New York City - “We hear from a pigeon-catching drug addict, a woman who is married to her cat, a man dicing with death in his day job and a mother who is travelling to see her daughter who has cancer. "It's not supposed to be that way round" she says. These unpredictable encounters come together to create a unique and fascinating audio portrait of New York City.”
     
  • Amsterdam - “Catherine Carr hears from the father and son who share a passion for firearms, a nursery worker whose chances of having a baby have slipped away; a father whose child’s funeral was a like a festival, and one of the last hippies in Amsterdam. These brief portraits have been woven together with the sounds of the city, to create an unpredictable and poetic listen.”

Our cities are filled with remarkable people. Their stories unfold when simply asked where they are going. I take this podcast as a reminder to try to speak more with strangers. That’s the only way to really know the city.

As a matter of fact, last year we had our own version of talking with strangers, called ‘Sascha and a Stranger’ with three pieces: Meet Fredrik, Meet Robin and Meet Carin.


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Third Wave Urbanism

A brand new podcast about human-scale urbanism. Every episode is a conversation between Kristen Jeffers and Katrina Johnston-Zimmerman with a different theme: Pokemon Go and Public Space, Olympic Design or Cities Ranking to name a few. A much needed voice in the urbanism world.


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This American Life

My dream is that Ira Glass, the godfather of audio storytelling, will host a podcast about cities. Until then, I enjoy his weekly podcast This American Life, which is, besides being the most successful podcast in the history, also dealing with urban issues from time to time. Here are some examples:

  • Lower 9 + 10 - Stories from Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans, the area that's been the slowest to rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

  • The Problem We All Live With - How to get American poor minority kids performing as well as white kids? Maybe desegregation is the solution.

  • Not It! - Three fascinating urban stories: the surprising story of many Puerto Rican homeless drug addicts in Chicago; David Letterman made fun of Kankakee, Illinois, 15 years ago. The city’s high school students want a revenge; and, why doesn’t New York City landfill like Western European countries do?


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Urbanism Speakeasy

Every episode of this interviews-podcast starts with the statement: “no degrees or silver spoon pedigree are required”. I cannot agree more: Urbanism Speakeasy is suitable for everyone who wishes to know a little more about making places better for people. Andy Boenau doesn’t try to stay objective to urban issues, and that’s great. He is advocating for walkable and bikable communities, and his interviewees normally share the same values. It doesn’t make the show less interesting, as most guests are truly inspiring urban activists and thinkers. I wish that the podcast will be released more frequently, and that the interviews will be recorded in better quality, but since the podcast seems to be a private venture of Boenau - I can’t really complain.


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The Urbanist

A weekly podcast dealing with everything related to the urban. Hosted by Andrew Tuck, it tackles a different topic concerning our cities in every episode: from public squares, through accessibility and sustainability, to art and culture. In terms of quality, The Urbanist is probably the best produced podcast, as it is delivered by the well-established organization: the Monocle. Their worldwide correspondents allow them to cover practically every spot on the globe. Luckily, they have lately cut the length of the show in half to 30 minutes, making it much more digestible.


      Written by Lior Steinberg. Follow him on Twitter.