City Planning Public Realm Policies and Urban Design

It is the public realm policies within city planning that are often closely related to the urban design endeavour. Most such policies do not deal directly with the geometrical qualities of built form but they, nevertheless, have a direct impact on the form, liveliness or quietness, and general ambience of the places and links of a city. They deal with such matters as eliminating antisocial behaviour and providing a high-amenity level for the inhabitants and users of public spaces. These general policies may be urban-wide or targeted at specific precincts of cities. The urban design guidelines for the central area of Glendale in California, for instance, form the public realm policies for the downtown area of the city (see Chapter 8). Much can be learnt about the interrelationships of city planning and urban design from such examples.

Public realm policies deal almost universally with accessibility, the servicing of buildings and the ways traffic is to be handled. Strong lobbying has led to the almost universal development of policies specifying accessibility for people in wheelchairs to places open to the general public. As the public's fear of crime increases so are public policies being more specific in formulating design principles that deal with the natural surveillance, territorial control and the lighting of public spaces. These concerns are related to the accessibility and safety needs of people shown in Figure 1.6. The more general concerns of urban design are, however, poorly considered. 'Broader considerations of the network of public streets and public spaces, the permeability of blocks and ... questions of the quality of the public realm are largely neglected' in city planning in Britain (Punter and Carmona, 1997: 169). Design issues come to the forefront only when citizens and planners are discussing the physical and symbolic character of an existing place and the desire to retain it.

Questions of the character of places are seldom addressed with any specificity. When they are, the formulation is poor. For example, at a community meeting the inhabitants of a town decided it wanted to retain its 'rural character'. What was meant by this objective was not articulated with precision verbally or in drawings. The town planning board developed a land-use regulation for two zones in the locale: one a rural/agricultural zone and the other a commercial zone. The former was aimed at retaining the rural character of the area by specifying 1-acre (0.40-hectare) lots. Where an extensive amount of road frontage was required, the lots were to be 3 acres (1.21 hectares) in size. In the commercial zone the lot size was to be at least 1 acre. The goal was to have houses scattered in a dotted pattern around the countryside. Instead what was achieved were the sites with short street frontages and thus buildings lining the roads. The rural character that citizens sought was lost (Craighead, 1991). Many planning policies conceal such hidden urban design processes.

One of the major areas in which hidden urban design occurs is in the design of roads. The prime criterion may be designing for public safety and accessibility. The definition of safety is, however, often established only by the size of the equipment - ambulances and fire engines - that have to be able to manoeuvre through a street. Such space requirements are often grossly overstated. Accessibility is also narrowly defined in terms of the speed of traffic flow. Streets have other functions and if simple criteria alone are selected as the basis for their design, their amenity level for pedestrians and their overall character may well be lost. Street width becomes the sole design specification. Visualizing dimensions and their consequences is not easy for lay-people on planning boards.

Many of the design ideas developed by well meaning architects during the first half of the twentieth century have been found to be counter-productive when translated into zoning regulations. The idea that sunlight should penetrate all habitable rooms in housing area design is a sound one but when applied as the sole criterion in the design of residential precincts of high-rise apartments it creates dull boring environments with few opportunities for exploratory behaviour by children (e.g. see Figures 7.1 and 11.3). At least the space between buildings needs to be well considered and a greater range of behavioural opportunities provided.

A recent review of the impact of land-use regulations in Houston, Texas shows their unintended impact on the quality of urban places (Lewyn, 2003). Decrees about lot size for single-family homes, parking requirements (1.33 cars per bedroom in apartment buildings) street widths and block sizes (600 feet/185 metres between intersections) makes life hard for pedestrians and encourages driving for even the most local of necessities. The density of development that results from such codes makes all kinds of housing developments and public transit financially unfeasible. At the same time the codes have not alleviated the problems of traffic congestion that they were legislated to address. What is needed in developing item-by-item planning and building regulations is to fully understand their three-dimensional implications and how they work as a system of controls.

Current zoning regulations throughout the world make it impossible to build new precincts that have the characteristics of the well-loved areas of existing cities. They would make the design of today's Paris, London, Boston and San Diego impossible. The codes were designed to avoid obnoxious facilities such as smoke-belching factories being located in residential areas and not much more. The world has changed and much needs to be rethought.

Homeowners Guide To Landscaping

Homeowners Guide To Landscaping

How would you like to save a ton of money and increase the value of your home by as much as thirty percent! If your homes landscape is designed properly it will be a source of enjoyment for your entire family, it will enhance your community and add to the resale value of your property. Landscape design involves much more than placing trees, shrubs and other plants on the property. It is an art which deals with conscious arrangement or organization of outdoor space for human satisfaction and enjoyment.

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