The modernist ethos that everything is in constant motion – nothing is fixed and there are no rules – still permeates values and attitudes and includes many who participate in urban design.
Contrary to this, Juris Greste submits eight firmly fixed signposts for urban designers.
Mind your mindset. As much as anything else, the quality and relevance of what you do is determined by your mindset. Is the glass half full or half empty? Do you think of your urban design as supporting and facilitating good development? Is your urban design about the physical bits of the urban fabric? Is it more about social and cultural ecology? Is it setting the stage of life for the vast majority of our population? You will be remembered better if you see your work within the last two frames.
Understand our urban heritage. Urban design has a long and rich heritage. Humans have lived in urbanised settlements for at least 5000 years. In a generic sense, there are very few urban problems or situations which have not presented themselves since then. Ignore this at your peril or certainly great detriment. The street layout and planning of old Pompeii is still relevant to most cities and towns of today. Who models their work on Chandigarh or Brasilia, two of our era’s more radical experiments?
Beware of pleas for innovation. We live in a consumerism obsessed society. Consumption is driven by innovation but the urban setting is not something that is consumed like a disposable razor. There is as much or more scope for urban innovation in the areas of policy and agenda, structures and processes, communications and methods as in the physical or spatial end results. Urban history is littered with failed innovations such as the Radiant City, the Radburn model and many others.
Respect fundamental rules and concepts. Our long urban tradition has distilled some truths and dictums which apply across cultures and geographic regions. Make sure you understand and assimilate them. As the amazing social, spiritual, psychological and intelligent herd creatures that we are, we do not differ from our Roman cousins as much as we think. Not only is Shakespeare still loved by the Anglo Saxon culture but his observations and message of the human condition is universal.
Urban design is based on knowledge. It is only in the last 50 or so years that we have distilled, assembled and structured the experience and observations of at least the last 3000 years into knowledge and learning which is now accessible. Urban design as a practice or notion is thus based on and linked to sound knowledge, research and wisdom. It did not appear out of the mist. Do not lose touch with that source of learning and knowledge. Regard resources put into education as an investment, not as an expense
Beware of too much ‘design’. ‘Design’ is a weasel word. Does it mean an action, a process, attribute or all of those? Design is not the one secret ingredient that gives the dish the ‘wow’ factor. We all respond to beauty but that is only one quality. If design means beauty then let us say so and look for it everywhere. The most cherished and admired places around the globe were not garlanded with design but emerged gradually to meet a need, serve a purpose, enhance the street, responded to the conditions of the times and respected established wisdoms. It is all about streets. Streets make up the biggest proportion of public space. They are our most important urban rooms. They are the skeletal structure of our cities and towns. We visit great cities of the world not only to experience individual ‘monuments’ but largely to enjoy and be seduced by their street ambience. That is why we visit Barcelona, Venice, Paris. Those who care about urban quality and urban design address the street foremost.
We must work together. We talk of urban design being a collective or collegiate enterprise but do not go the distance. We still maintain our silo walls and picket fences. We still fear losing territory. Extend your influence not by conquest but alliances. We will not be serving the best interests of the patient if we work from separate consulting rooms instead of coming together around the bed and approach the condition collaboratively.