From parasite architects to pseudo-public space: 2017’s best Cities stories | Cities

The 15 most popular Guardian Cities stories published in 2017 featured cities in Spain, the US, China, Japan, Norway and Great Britain – among other countries.

Catch up with the best-read items of urban journalism you might have missed this year, and help us get a head start on the year to come: what stories, from which cities, should we tell in 2018? Leave your ideas in the comments.

Fernando Abellanas’ new studio, far from the madding crowds of Valencia in eastern Spain, is an example of what is becoming known as parasite architecture: buildings that cling to, perch on or sprout from others.

Katherine Cramer has spent a decade talking with residents of small-town Wisconsin about their struggle to make ends meet, and the lack of response from anyone with the power to make life better. “These groups have a class analysis of what is going on in their country; and what’s going on is essentially about where things are going: to the cities.”

When Stefano Boeri imagines the future of urban China, he sees green, and lots of it. The Italian architect, famed for his tree-clad Bosco Verticale skyscraper complex in Milan, has plans to create entire “forest cities” in a country that has become synonymous with environmental degradation and smog.

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An artist’s impression of the Liuzhou forest city. Photograph: Stefano Boeri Architetti

Dubbed “Uber for bikes”, the brightly coloured “dockless” share bikes that stand out like a rash across many Chinese cities are the product of a whole host of new startups, aggressively competing for territory and investment.

Public transit maps necessarily distort the city’s true geography. But by how much? A series of animated graphics answers that question.

Japanese homes depreciate over time to become completely valueless within 20 or 30 years. When someone moves out of a home or dies, the house is typically demolished – but a stagnant economy is forcing the country into a rethink.

“This is my 27th out of 31 days rough sleeping in central London. I’m not homeless – I’ve got a countdown on my hand until I stop this project. I am raising money.”

The 13th annual Demographia international housing affordability survey ranks the affordability of “middle-income” housing in 406 cities, and one stood out for the seventh consecutive year.

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The most unaffordable city for housing? It’s this one. Photograph: Jacquet-Lagreze/REX Shutterstock

Whether they’re 1930s-style redbrick structures with pitched roofs and large beer gardens, or forbidding cubes of wood and brick that squat in the shadow of tower blocks, English postwar estate bars are at risk. They’re being closed and converted into shops or apartments, boarded up and left to rot, or completely wiped from the map, leaving a cleared site and an empty car park.

Who says exercise is always good for you? Cycling to work in these highly polluted cities could be more dangerous to your health than not doing it at all.

The global urbanisation boom is devouring colossal amounts of sand – the key ingredient of concrete and asphalt. From Cambodia to California, industrial-scale sand mining is causing wildlife to die, local trade to wither and bridges to collapse.

Oslo sought to become the first major European city to have a permanent no-car zone, racing ahead of a long list of cities seeking to do the same – but the plan proved simply too revolutionary.

Although seemingly accessible, with the look and feel of public land, privately owned public spaces – or “Pops” – are usually enforced by private security companies. A Guardian Cities investigation revealed an almost complete lack of transparency over who owns the sites in London, and how they are policed.

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Homelessness – a growing concern in our cities, with two stories making our top 15. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod for the Guardian

“Prior to falling well and truly over the edge, I had neither experience nor understanding of drug addicts and homeless people, and hence very little sympathy for them. Yet what I think many fail to realise is that every man and woman has a breaking point, somewhere, even if most will thankfully never have to meet with it.”

Cage homes are minuscule rooms, mostly beds sealed with wooden planks, occupied by the poorest people in Hong Kong. Photographer Benny Lam documented these suffocating living conditions in subdivided flats, recording the lives of these hidden communities.

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