Urban design is a niche field within the built environment; and it revolves around culmination of processes, approaches & techniques in building design, public spaces & squares, commercial spaces, transport systems, landscapes, etc, within a town or city that defines its overall urban fabric. Additionally, they form & implement frameworks and procedures crucial in aiding various professionals associated with the project, to complete it. Urban designers collaborate with urban planners, architects, engineers, communities involved, building developers, and government agencies to develop proposals, implement plans and oversee the construction of urban infrastructure projects.
Elements of Urban Design
Urban design aims to enhance society’s quality of life by creating livable, performative & environmentally sustainable spaces through numerous strategies, such as designing & rethinking urban mobility, commuting ways, public transit systems, civic amenities, public spaces, etc. The following listed are elements of urban design; that are essential in planning & ensuring functionality of urban infrastructure projects.
Road infrastructure: Designing Road infrastructure projects is critical in terms of functionality & aesthetics. Streetscapes encompass all sensory architectural components enhancing the useability of a street viz lighting, public furniture, vegetation & materiality. Sustainably integrated streetscapes are segregated (dedicated pedestrian & cycle lanes), accessible (ramps & tactile paving for mobility-restricted citizens), and green (bioswales & gardens). When implemented, they ensure inclusivity and manage stormwater, subsequently reducing negative impact on environment.
Public spaces: Parks, public plazas, squares, public recreation centers, etc., and other public amenity areas must be designed to encourage a sense of community & provide a place to encourage citizens of numerous backgrounds to interact with each other. These spaces also provide an opportunity for everyone to perform leisurely & recreational activities to unwind and spend more time with nature enhancing physical and emotional well-being of users. Developing and maintaining these areas consistently, in the long run, will aid in creating a healthy society and sustainable cities while serving as landmarks forging a city’s identity.
Transit systems: Urban transportation infrastructure plays a crucial role in ensuring a liveable, sustainable community, and presently, related transportation concepts are rising in popularity. An example is ‘Transit-oriented development’ revolving around the planning of mixed-use developments consisting of residential, office & commercial spaces close to stations. This practice encourages people to utilize public transportation through convenience and easy accessibility. Another concept on similar lines is ‘Circular Mobility’, which will be elaborated in next section about the future of urban design.
Buildings & Landscapes: Building architecture affects the micro & macro fabric of a city directly. An effective building design consists of energy-efficient passive systems to ensure maximum utility and to improve the vibrancy of life in metropolitan communities. Similarly designing landscapes must reap benefits of increased access to green spaces, reduced heat island effects, and improved environmental quality & biodiversity.
Future of Urban Design – Sustainability, Smart Cities & Circular Mobility
Urban design has been constantly shaped by demographic shifts, socio-economic conditions, advancements in technology, and increasing concern over growing environmental issues. With the onset of climate change, planning of infrastructure within cities is focusing on reducing carbon footprint. Sustainability is key to developing increased resilience to erratically changing climatic conditions, through the design of green roofs & walls, renewable energy systems & public transit plans.
Implementation of the concept of ‘Smart Cities’ focused on humanizing technologies and participatory design is already underway in many cities across the world to improve efficiency in public facilities & infrastructure and lifestyles of citizens. Also, the predominant purpose of this concept is to restrict unnecessary human traffic movement, thus saving time and valuable resources, which finally results in sustainable living. Further, it is envisaged to plan purposeful layouts for different human activities be it living or work. Smart cities utilize numerous electronic means to collect data specific to managing a city’s resources efficiently. This data is collected from citizens and other assets to manage transit systems, water supply networks, power plants & utilities, information systems, and community spaces such as schools, libraries, hospitals, etc. This is also to ensure efficient usage of public infrastructure, and communication with local authorities & government bodies through artificial intelligence, data analytics, and e-participation.
With the gradual rise in global warming & fluctuating sea levels in various cities, conceptualization of ‘Circular Mobility’ has been growing popular for a while. According to Ellen Macarthur Foundation, who is committed to achieving a circular economy to revitalize environments, road congestion has led to approximately 2-5% of loss in global GDP. Vehicles that are resource-intensive to manufacture, majorly contribute to noise disturbances & air pollution. A simple solution to this prevailing issue could start from home like utilizing public transit systems to commute to areas close to stations and personal vehicles to distant areas where public transit systems are inaccessible.
Circular mobility is characterized by accessibility, affordability, and efficiency of mobility. It is a multi-modal system catering to the different needs of citizens within a city, providing flexible solutions in form of shared transport (cars, bikes, etc.), buses, trains, tram networks, etc. Additionally, while incorporating latest technologies like automated & electric transport options, circular mobility addresses the necessity to rethink vehicle-centric planning in cities and seeks to limit roads to serve other requirements of citizens through encouragement of cycling & walking and rebuilding spaces for citizens rather than demarcating it for transportation. Other benefits that would emerge are circular vehicular design pertaining to repairing & recycling vehicle components to manufacture new motor vehicles.
As said earlier, the very purpose of any architectural & urban practice aims at the convenience of users, sustainability of space, and protecting Mother Earth as our legacy has to hand over this planet to the next generations at its best. In this journey, urban design has a very pivotal role to play. In this context, it is the responsibility of every individual in this field to take note of this purpose and diligently discharge their practice in planning of built environment.
7 elements of urban design: Creating Vibrant and Livable Cities (no date). Available at: https://urbandesignlab.in/7-elements-of-urban-design/ (Accessed: April 9, 2023).
Smart city (2023) Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation. Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smart_city (Accessed: April 9, 2023).
What is a ‘smart city’? (no date) World Economic Forum. Available at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/08/what-is-a-smart-city/ (Accessed: April 9, 2023).
Jain, D. (2020) Circular mobility for a resilient urban environment, Circular Cities Asia. Available at: https://www.circularcities.asia/post/circular-mobility-for-a-resilient-urban-environment (Accessed: April 9, 2023).