Extreme Urban Makeovers: 15 Cities That Are Nothing Like They Used To Be

The old adage that the only constant is change certainly rings true for America's cities, many of which have been dramatically altered over the past 10, 20, or 30 years as a result of population growth, urban expansion, or unexpected events. Click through for a glimpse of the 15 cities that have experienced the most startling transformations over the last 30 years, but hurry—if history is any indication, they won't stay this way forever!

  1. New York, New York

    New York, New York

    A number of longstanding features of New York City life have disappeared in recent decades, including subway tokens, graffiti-lined train cars, high murder rates, and polluted airways. Successful campaigns to modernize city services and combat crime have changed both the experience of city life and the appearance of the subways, streets, and skies. But these improvements have led to higher rents, an exodus of mom-and-pop shops from old neighborhoods, and an abundance of luxury condos in Manhattan and beyond.

    Related: 20 Places with (Almost) Zero Crime


  2. Detroit, Michigan

    Detroit, Michigan

    Once an auto boomtown, by the 1980s Detroit had become a poster child for urban blight, with a sky-high murder rate and a staggering number of arsons, many of which were committed on the night before Halloween, known as Devil's Night. Facing a loss of manufacturing jobs, crumbling infrastructure, and failing schools, Detroit declared bankruptcy in 2013. Although the city still faces many challenges, Detroit is experiencing a rebirth. Arson rates have declined, major corporations like Quicken Loans have moved in to revitalize the downtown area and spark job growth, and new initiatives are attracting artists, entrepreneurs, and urban farmers to the area.

    Related: The 20 Friendliest Cities in America


  3. Las Vegas, Nevada

    Las Vegas, Nevada

    Over the last three decades, the population of the Las Vegas metro area has surged from 661,000 to more than 2.2 million. But more people equals increased water consumption in this desert town, and that has led to substantial water loss from Lake Mead. Although it was at full capacity in 1983, the lake now stands at just 37 percent capacity.

    Related: These 30 Places Have the Worst Weather in America


  4. Atlanta, Georgia

    Atlanta, Georgia

    Once a sleepy town, Atlanta is now one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, with a metropolitan area population of nearly 6 million. Although much of the look and feel of the city has changed, many Reagan-era buildings remain. Thanks to their dystopian appearance (and a tempting tax incentive for film productions), these structures are more than symbols of commerce and industry—they've become backdrops for films like "The Hunger Games" and "Divergent."


  5. San Jose, California

    San Jose, California

    In the wake of the technology boom of the 1980s and '90s, this once-affordable town in the center of Silicon Valley saw an influx of new residents. Reasonable mortgages and rents became a thing of the past as housing prices in San Jose increased 936 percent between 1976 and 2001, making it the fastest-growing market in the country during that time period. It's still one of the most expensive places to buy a home today.

    Related: The Cleanest (and Dirtiest) Cities in America


  6. New Orleans, Louisiana

    New Orleans, Louisiana

    The Big Easy has been on the mend since Hurricane Katrina pummeled the city in 2005, but the treacherous tropical storm reshaped the landscape and institutions of New Orleans. To this day, some neighborhoods remain vacant, and many public schools have been converted into public charter schools. On the plus side, the start-up sector has boomed. Even so, the population, currently at 391,000, is nowhere near its prestorm total of 484,674 in 2000.

    Related: After Disaster: 8 U.S. Towns That Went from Ruin to Rebirth


  7. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

    Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

    The unveiling of One Liberty Place in 1987 represented an architectural game changer that sparked a transformation in Philadelphia's cityscape, creating one of the most impressive skylines in the country. The 945-foot tower was the first building to surpass the height of William's Penn hat atop Philadelphia City Hall, and its completion opened the floodgates for the construction of a new crop of soaring skyscrapers.  


  8. Chicago, Illinois

    Chicago, Illinois

    From an expansion of O'Hare Airport to a makeover of such major thoroughfares as State Street and Michigan Avenue, the largest city in the Midwest has undergone a significant overhaul since the 1980s. But as newcomers attracted to this revitalization descend on Chicago, gentrification has caused some longtime residents to relocate to the more affordable suburbs outside of the Windy City.

    Related: The Best U.S. Cities for a Summer Staycation


  9. Boston, Massachusetts

    Boston, Massachusetts

    Beantown's reputation for having one of the best transportation systems in the country was cemented over the last 30 years through the completion of major construction projects, including Amtrak's Acela high-speed rail line and the Big Dig. This massive project rerouted I-93 through tunnels below the city, easing traffic and opening up acres of waterfront property. Moreover, the Port of Boston has risen in stature to become one of the largest Atlantic coast seaports—and a major port for cruise ships.

    Related: The 30 Best Towns to Move to for Retirement


  10. Washington, D.C.

    Washington, D.C.

    From the unveiling of Freedom Plaza and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial to the opening of the bookshop Politics and Prose, a D.C. cultural hub, many now-iconic fixtures with roots in the 1980s have redefined the cityscape. Another notable, more recent change: The attack on the Pentagon in 2001 led to beefed-up security throughout the capital as the nation rallied to head off any any future incidents.

    Related: 15 Places Every American Should Visit At Least Once


  11. Austin, Texas

    Austin, Texas

    Since the 1980s, Austinites have witnessed their hometown morph from a quiet burg to the Silicon Valley of the South, rife with both innovative start-ups and tantalizing food trucks. Proof that its economic star is steadily rising, the city has enjoyed a 40 percent increase in job growth and a 54 percent increase in home values since 2006.

    Related: These Are the Places with the Best Weather in America


  12. Charlotte, North Carolina

    Charlotte, North Carolina

    Charlotte bolstered its reputation as a major player on the banking scene over the last 30 years. Under the direction of financier Hugh McColl, the North Carolina National Bank (later renamed NationsBank) made a series of bold moves that ended with the acquisition of BankAmerica in 1998. The Queen City is now regarded as the second-largest banking headquarters in the United States, after New York City.


  13. Nashville, Tennessee

    Nashville, Tennessee

    Although one of the most costly tornadoes on record hit Nashville in 1998, the addition of two professional sports teams during the same period—the Nashville Predators hockey team and the Tennessee Titans football team—spurred the revitalization of the downtown area into a lively hub for entertainment. In 2017, Music City stole the title of Tennessee's most populous city from Memphis for the first time.


  14. Portland, Oregon

    Portland, Oregon

    Portland was a major beneficiary of the rise of technology in the 1990s, which brought with it deep-pocketed multinational corporations like Intel. Even as the city shed some of its oddball sensibilities, its per-person GDP rose by 50 percent between 2001 and 2012—more than in any other city during the same period.

    Related: Where to Get the Most Bang for Your Real Estate Buck


  15. Dallas, Texas

    Dallas, Texas

    Thanks to the city's burgeoning population, the length of the average commute in Dallas has grown by 8 percent since 2006. Yet those extra minutes behind the wheel are a price many residents are willing to pay in exchange for welcome side effects like increased safety, job growth, and overall prosperity. The crime rate has dropped by 43 percent since 2006, while employment and median income have each risen roughly 20 percent over the same period.

    Related: America's Most Burglarized Towns and Cities


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