We see a UDF as offering the potential to create the settings that are conducive for people to thrive and reach their potential. Fundamentally we are designing human habitat. This point cannot be made too strongly and it reflects the view that a good UDF identifies the interventions necessary to equip a place to better respond to the needs of the community that lives there. It is about creating a better fit between “people” and “place”.
For us this means looking at a place as a series of choices for its occupants, to live, work, play, learn, love, pray, bring up children and connect with each other and their surroundings. If urban design can be used as a tool to widen those choices and ensure they are relevant to the aspirations and values of the community in question, then we can justify our intervention and fulfil the potential of a UDF. To this end good urban design is design that makes the best use of the available resources in a way that is responsive to:
- the needs and aspirations of the people who occupy that development; and
- the particular circumstances of the environment within which the development is located.
The range of needs that urban design has a hand in meeting is varied, but includes:
- the need to feel safe;
- providing opportunities to interact with other people and avoid social exclusion;
- the need to conveniently access transport to get to jobs / shopping / education experiences if they are not available locally;
- the need to experience nature, to experience stimulating environments; and
- environments that do not discriminate against any potential users because of age, gender or personal mobility and do not require prohibitive investments of time or energy to enjoy.
Urban design has a role in resolving conflicts between land uses, and ensuring business activity and employment generation is not unnecessarily disadvantaged because of environmental factors. Of particular importance is the expressing of values and priorities of the community that occupies that environment.
Intrinsic values of site
Urban design also has a role in making sure that optimum use is made of the site’s intrinsic values so they can make the greatest contribution to the quality of life of those that experience them.
Meeting both of these objectives calls on design skills, humility, and an ability to listen and work collaboratively with the community in question. It involves recognition of all the different ways in which people can have a stake in an area and an ability to utilise the emotional capital with which people back up their stake in their community. A good urban design framework recognises this and builds in not just the time to provide for the social landscape and give it a value equal to the “objective” physical landscape/townscape, but it also takes the time to build a common vision with the people who live, work and experience that area. It is to this agenda that the designers’ skill should be applied to focus those skills to best effect.
The final observation I would like to make is that the preparation of such a UDF is effectively a contract between the Council/DSE, the consultants and the community.
As in any deal the commitment that the community make to participating (in terms of time and support) needs to be reflected in a commitment by the client agency to realise the proposal, otherwise momentum is dissipated and the final UDF becomes just a pretty document that gathers dust. Thus, the process adds to, rather than resolves, the community’s “planning participation fatigue”.