You may not be aware of it, and you might not even believe it, but urban design is all around the place in which you live. From cities to towns and villages, the arrangement and design of buildings, open spaces, transportation and amenities have been shaped in such a way as to provide a physical setting for people to live within.
But simply creating a network of streets lined with buildings isn’t enough. UK urban designers look closely at the framework of a place to ensure people are able to move freely about interesting surroundings. The place should be enjoyed by different people for many different purposes.
Successful urban design
What makes a successful place is dependent on a number of processes which can occur progressively over a long period of time or through urban regeneration. Unfortunately, what sets apart the places we like from the places we get is typically due to poor planning applications.
New developments are often created with short-term aims such as developments which can be sold on quickly or buildings which only serve the purpose of the user rather than being aesthetically pleasing to people who pass by or live in close proximity. The challenge for urban designers is to create a place that will be used and enjoyed by the community as a whole.
So why don’t we get well thought-out planning in the places we live? Much of the blame can be placed at our obsession with motoring. The 20th Century saw an abundance of planning ideas that gave cars the priority and were poorly implemented. Large roads with high-rise buildings were favoured over historic street patterns. Planners and UK architects argued over their roles in planning and the needs of the residents were ignored. Fortunately, we are beginning to learn from the mistakes of the past.
The urban designer
Urban design as a profession is a relatively new one – perhaps little more than three decades old. Beforehand, the task of shaping a place to live was performed by various professionals who were usually at odds as to what works best.
Now architects, planners, engineers, artists and other professionals pull resources and provide urban design services in UK and Europe to create public spaces, neighbourhoods, city-wide systems and whole regions that have a character all of their own.
Designers strive to create successful places with streets and buildings that have defined public and private spaces which are easy to move around in with clear routes and landmarks; places that are sustainable, adaptable and have diverse facilities that respond to local needs.
Communities at the heart of masterplanning
With the advent of urban design as a profession, planners and designers realised that residents should be at the centre of any change. Nobody knows an area better than the residents – they are aware of the problems which exist, the solutions, and the aspirations for a better future. Designers now spend time working with communities to draw on these views and experiences before any designs are drawn.
By engaging the public in urban design workshops, designers can get residents to focus on how their place works, what they value about it and what they would like to change. Only then can professionals ensure they have the desires of the community at the top of their list.