The future of urban designPart

The labels given fields of human endeavour change as the issues perceived by society to be important change. Urban design is a label coined at a time, in the English-speaking world at least, when architecture and city planning were developing distinct and clearly separate identities. Whether or not the term 'urban design' will endure or soon be replaced by a more precise term or terms remains to be seen. The term will probably continue to be used loosely as it is now. Maybe it will be abandoned for the same reason - because it is imprecise. Parts 2 and 3 of this book have discussed the realm of urban design as perceived over the past 50 years through the description of 50-odd case studies. The range of concerns that these case studies display will remain and may well increase in breadth and depth in the future.

All the traditional design fields are undergoing change. City planning has broadened in its scope of concern in an attempt to be comprehensive in its outlook; landscape architecture has considerably extended its domain of interest from a horticulture base to include urban environments, while architecture has many practitioners who focus on different aspects of the built environment. If anything, architecture has contracted its scope of concern spinning off sub-fields as new environmental problems have arisen. Architecture and urban design were once seen as one endeavour everywhere. In some European countries they still are but as architects are being asked to address urban issues with greater thought, urban design may spin away to become an independent (although not exclusive) professional field.

There has been a shift in the intellectual processes involved in urban designing over the past 50 years. It is implicit in the case studies. Urban design began in an era when Modernist architectural ideas about the design of cities and their precincts held sway. Rationalist and Empiricist design paradigms vied for hegemony. Urban Design emerged as an identifiable professional field in response to the limitations of, particularly, architectural ideas about the nature of the future city as presented in the Athens Charter of Congrès International d'Architecture Moderne (CIAM) (see Sert and CIAM, 1944). The utility of Empiricist ideas, particularly as represented by the Garden City paradigm, was also strongly questioned (see J. Jacobs, 1961).

The world is a complex place. Whether or not it is growing increasingly complex and changing more rapidly than before, as we are wont to believe is open to conjecture. Maybe the observation that it is, is our contemporary conceit. The fundamental concerns of urban design have, however, been with us from the time that human settlements were first consciously designed. How do we deal with group interests in relationship to individual in urban development? How do we define the public interest?

While Modernist site designing ideas, if not architectural, still hold considerable sway in the minds of architects across the world, new paradigms have emerged. Most recently it has been the New Urbanist or Smart Growth movement that has been attracting the most international attention. As a basis for designing the future it possesses strong Empiricist tones as it draws heavily on past urban patterns that have worked well. The world, however, is changing.

It would be grossly unfair to claim that the Rationalists amongst urban designers were not centrally concerned with public interest issues, human life and human needs, or motivations. They were. Their concern was, however, based on their own perceptions of what the world should be. These perceptions were based on an analysis of what was wrong with the world rather than observations of what works and what does not. Our understanding of the functions of built form has been considerably broadened in recent years. The definition has been extended from the one that the Modernists used to one that recognizes the purposes served by the symbolic aesthetic qualities of the environment in terms of the self-images of the people who inhabit and use it. The case studies included here clearly show that.

Our understanding of how the world functions and what different patterns of built form afford people will undoubtedly deepen in the future. Maybe the world is no more complex than before but we are being asked to deal with the complexity rather than to develop a simplistic view of how the world works. Too often we redefine the problems of the world in a simpler, manageable way by eliminating many of the variables shown in Figure 1.6 from our domain of concern. We then design for that simpler world. It is the easiest thing to do. This approach can and has created further problems, many of them in terms of the functioning of the biogenic environment.

The greatest shift - in urban design thinking if not practice - during the 1990s has been carried through into the first decade of the twenty-first century. It may well be a major concern of the next generation of urban designers. It is the concern for the natural systems of specific terrestrial locations. The shift has resulted from a much greater understanding of the fragility of the planet Earth and its limited and depleting resources. An interest in the health of the planet by individual city planners goes back a long way (e.g. to Patrick Geddes in the first decades of the twentieth century), but it is only recently that it has become a major issue in discussions of urban design. The case studies included in this study of the field, or discipline, of urban design suggest that it is as yet seldom a major concern in practice. Chapter 11, Learning from the Case Studies: Current Issues in Urban Design takes the discussion of the foci of attention of our contemporary urban design efforts initiated in Chapter 1 a step forward. It focuses on the issues raised by the case studies and it outlines the issues that continue to be important as well as those that seem to be becoming so. With luck, two present concerns will disappear. Much urban and architectural design has to deal with antisocial behaviour and more recently with terrorism. In an equable world designing to reduce the opportunities for such activities will, one hopes, as Tony Garnier did in his design for the hypothetical Cité Industrielle (1917), not be necessary.

In this chapter, I also recapitulate the discussion of the scope of urban design in democratic, capitalist countries that permeates this book and the endless, but important, debate over individual and communal rights. Few developers and their architects favour any restriction on what they perceive to be their creative rights. Often they are fighting against antiquated or poorly considered building regulations and guidelines but often they simply want to get their own way in the face of community opposition. Those property developers who are strong proponents of urban design see it leading to urban environments of quality that reinforce their own investment decisions.

Debates over what is important and what is not will continue. Urban design projects of various types, scales and sizes will continue to be built. The conclusion is that the city is indeed and will continue be a collage of parts, some distinctive and others a mélange. So be it. What is important is that cities provide a rich set of behavioural opportunities and aesthetic displays that enrich the lives of all the people who constitute it. Urban design becomes particularly difficult in multi-cultural societies and in those where the interests of groups of the population fall outside the concern of market forces. Few of the case studies in this book have focused on the needs of the poor.

The final chapter of the book, Chapter 12, is a critical reflection on the ideas about the nature of urban design implicit in the typology proposed and the case studies. Urban design, thoughtfully carried out in response to diverse public interests, has much to offer the citizens of the world whatever name its activities go by. It has come a long way in the past 50 years in dealing with complex issues and diverse demands. As a result the questions now are: 'Is urban design becoming a profession and a discipline in its own right?' and 'If it is, should it be?' The argument in this book concludes by saying that the answers to these questions depend on the directions in which their members take the traditional design disciplines. I, personally, hope that urban design will continue to be a collaborative field of design rather than an independent discipline and profession.

Homeowners Guide To Landscaping

Homeowners Guide To Landscaping

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