Urban design guiding principles
Before proposing some basic urban design principles, it is important that an understanding and agreement on some general terms and concepts is established. They are the premises from which the principles of form, structure and outcome are derived. Some of them will be obvious. Nevertheless they need to be restated as a starting point.
1. Urban design
The word design is used as a verb as well as a noun. It refers to the process and activity of designing as well as the end result and/or product. Much confusion takes place unless this clearly understood.
The process of designing (certainly in urban design) has two aspects. One aspect is the process of making decisions and choices which directly affect the physical forms and qualities of a city or town. Those decisions and choices are made by people who are usually regarded as designers but it also includes surveyors, engineers, architects, landscape architects and many others.
Where are the streets and roads? How wide are they? Where are the buildings placed, what form are they? What are the landscape elements? Where a road or a sewer is placed will affect the form and arrangement of a place, sometimes for centuries.
The other aspect is the process of making decisions which do not immediately bear upon the physical forms of the built environment but nevertheless affect it very significantly. This part of the process is the making of laws, regulation and plans usually by non-designers. It also includes how the community is involved in urban decision making.
An example is the regulations affecting the formal consumption of food and drink out on the footpath. If a bicycle is defined as a vehicle then it will not be allowed in places intended only for pedestrians. How those regulations work will have a major impact on the urban design quality of a place. How decisions are arrived at will bear upon their end outcome and effectiveness. This part of the process also includes politics.
The outcome (the product)
The other part of urban design is the end result. This is usually seen as the physical arrangement of a city or town (the product). However, it would be more desirable to think in terms of outcomes rather than products. The outcomes may be buildings which enclose spaces (physical) or a particular quality (outcome) such as a street which has life and vitality.
It may also be a convenience because certain amenities and services are well arranged. Thus, it would be preferable to talk of outcomes or end results rather than products.
Urban design is thus an activity and an end result. We must take care that we are clear which component we are referring to. It may be better to keep in mind the objective of urban design, which is to make good urban places.
2. Scope of urban design
Urban design is for the whole city or town, not just centres or other important parts.
Urban design - in its process or outcome - is sometimes thought of as applicable mainly to central business districts, sub-centres or other specific parts. Urban design is about the design of whole towns and cities and thus is relevant to all parts - commercial, industrial and residential; city centres, as well as suburbs.
Urban design applies at different levels of scale, from the broad (region, district, neighbourhood) to the small (individual block, street, kerbs and paving, street furniture). It also encompasses the unbuilt parts of settlements in that they affect the quality of life in the built sections as much, and sometimes even more, as the unbuilt parts (water catchments, wildlife corridors, recreational space and so on).
3. Cities must be sustainable
The pre-condition for applying any sound principles for a good urban place is that it be sustainable at all levels of scale - local, regional, national and global.
4. Consider the long term
In making any decision which affects the form or function of the city, the possible or likely longer term consequences of that decision must be carefully considered.
5. Cities are for and about people
All decisions must be evaluated in terms of what they will mean to people and how their lives will or might be affected.
6. The domain of people is the ground
The domain of people in the city is the ground. Decisions which affect the form and function of cities and towns must be related to the ground level because that is how we use and experience cities most of the time.
7. The city is a market place
The city is the place and setting of an almost infinite number of exchanges - economic, social, cultural and political as well as personal.
8. The city is a public place
The city is a unique and highly complex system held together and structured around public spaces, amenities and institutions.
9. The good city maximises choices and opportunities
To fully realise the potential and value of exchange, there must be the maximum possible range of choices and opportunities.
10. Every part is important
The city is a collective. It is a grouping and relationship of the large and the small, over time. The large is as important as the small.
11. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts
If the city is a collective, then we must judge the whole rather than the individual parts. Even though small parts are important, their value can only be judged in how they contribute to making the whole better.
12. Qualities of public space / place
Urban design - the process and the end outcome - concerns itself with how a place / space feels, functions, serves the needs of the multitude of users now and in the years to come.
13. Permanent residents come first
In making our decisions which affect the setting in which people conduct their lives, priority must be given to those for whom it is their permanent or long term residence or place of work.
14. Landowner's rights and responsibilities
A freehold landowner is entitled to certain rights on the land. However, in return for the enjoyment of those rights, one must also accept and exercise responsibilities.
15. The urban design environment - a political system
The built urban environment can act like a political system. It can limit or constrain our freedoms, behaviour and choices or it can enrich, liberate and enhance our opportunities.