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Advantage Of Urban Design

Blog | Date: August 26, 2016

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Pretoria Institute for Architecture
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Advantages of urban design


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What is Urban Design?

According to the Urban Design Institute of South Africa (UDISA) Urban Design is both a specialised and an integrated profession. Urban designers are specially trained in the discipline, usually after qualifying as architects and sometimes as planners or landscape architects.

The unique focus of Urban Design lies in the understanding of three-dimensional form and space in cities and settlements, and the relationship of this form to land, context, society and history. This understanding is firmly rooted in an awareness of nature, landscape and urbanism and consideration of the needs and dynamics of society, economy and space. Urban Design is as much process as product and the implementation of Urban Design proposals require knowledge and skill in decision-making techniques and structures.

The art of Urban Design, lies in shaping the interaction between people and places, environment and urban form, nature and built fabric and influencing processes that lead to the development of successful cities, towns and villages. Integration with the complementary fields of city planning, architecture and civil engineering is essential for the practice of Urban Design. The role of Urban Design is synthesising various fields also requires strong connections with other specialist fields in the natural and built environment.

Good Urban Design adds the following value

The value of Urban Design was researched by the COMMISSION FOR ARCHITECTURE AND THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT (2011) which gives a good summary of the value of urban Design:

The research suggested that good Urban Design adds value by increasing the economic viability of development and by delivering social and environmental benefits. According to the Commission, good Urban Design adds economic value by:

– Producing high returns on investments (good rental returns and enhanced capital values).

– Placing developments above the local competition at little cost.

– Responding to occupier demand.

– Helping to deliver more lettable areas (higher densities).

– Reducing management, maintenance, energy and security costs.

– Contributing to more contented and productive workforces.

– Supporting the ‘life-giving’ mixed-use elements in developments.

– Creating an urban regeneration and place marketing dividend.

– Differentiating places and raising their prestige.

– Opening up investment opportunities, raising confidence in development opportunities and attracting grant monies.

– Reducing the cost to the public purse of rectifying Urban Design mistakes.

Any good design adds social and environmental value by:

– Creating well connected, inclusive and accessible new places.

– Delivering mixed-use environments with a broad range of facilities and amenities available to all.

– Delivering development sensitive to its context.

– Enhancing the sense of safety and security within and beyond developments.

– Returning inaccessible or run down areas and amenities to beneficial public use.

– Boosting civic pride and enhancing the civic image.

– Creating more energy efficient and less polluting development.

– Revitalising urban heritage.

Who benefits from Urban Design?

– Investors benefit through favourable returns on their investments and through satisfying occupier demand, although the full payoff may not be immediate.

– Developers benefit by attracting investors and pre-lets more easily and hence from enhanced company image, if they retain benefit from good returns on investments.

– Designers benefit because good Urban Design is crucially dependent on their input.

– Occupiers benefit from the better performance, loyalty, health and satisfaction of their employees and from their increased prestige that well-designed developments command with guests and clients.

– Everyday users and society as a whole benefit from the economic advantages of successful regeneration, including new and retained jobs, and also through access to a better quality environment and an enhanced range of amenities and facilities.

– Public authorities benefit by meeting their obligation to deliver a well-designed, economically and socially viable environment and often by ripple effects to adjoining areas.

How can greater value be released?

While the research identified economic, social and environmental benefits flowing from good Urban Design, it also identified barriers to delivery, particularly those inherent in established patterns of investment and development. Nevertheless, key stakeholders (including investors and occupiers) are increasingly valuing Urban Design and its perceived (particularly economic) dividends.

– Delivering good Urban Design seems to some extent to rely on delivering the critical mass needed to support it. New public spaces, infrastructure improvements, mixing uses and so forth all rely on the realisation of developments large enough to fund their delivery. This suggests an important role for the public sector in assembling larger sites.

– Smaller developments can contribute to the delivery of good Urban Design if clear arrangements and strategies are put in place (by public or private parties) to coordinate adjoining sites and help deliver a well-considered and coherent whole. Proactive planning is the key.

– Lifetime costs should be considered upfront in the development process. This is easier said than done when many of those with a longer term interest in developments do not come on board until later in the development process. Nevertheless, the capacity of good Urban Design to reduce management and maintenance costs should be highlighted.

-Where the strategic dimension of Urban design is appreciated and acted upon through positive planning at a larger spatial scale – particularly the integration of development into established infrastructure – the value (particularly social value) added by development is enhanced.

– Mixing uses lead directly to a higher user and occupier satisfaction and was fundamental to the social, economic and environmental value added by the most successful case studies.

– Public spaces and amenities function far more successfully if located at accessible, well-connected points in developments.

– Good Urban Design can make areas more attractive to higher-income residents and the businesses and services that supply or employ them. It is important, however, to sustain social diversity within new developments to help ensure that the benefits of regeneration are widely shared.

From the above, it can be seen that Urban Design has clear advantages in the city building process and that it has the potential to add value to land and the liveability of our cities.
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