Friday, July 1, 2016

Urban Design as an Important Facet of Physical Planning

Urban design is a part of the overall framework of planning. It seeks to develop the policy framework within which physi­cal  designs can be created for a certain urban area.  Urban design  is  an activity that deals  with  the  relationships between  the  major elements of the urban  fabric.  

Urban  design is a very important facet of planning  because as  planning must exhaustively consider the  economic  social and environmental aspects of development, it likewise has to always  heed the physical aspects. Development  will  always have  a physical dimension because afterall, both the  built and natural environments are physical.

Hedman and Jaszewski (1984) mentioned that:

"there  was a time when architecture take care of the urban  design requirements without the need of an urban design  overview.  There  was a built-in sensibility that ensured a reasonable degree   of  order and  harmony   within  the  built environment.   But that   state  of affairs   has  changed  that  architecture   now often (though not all the  time) contributes to the disorder and   disharmony".

The  above  implies that urban design has  really  become  a significant  discipline as its task includes overseeing  the general consistency and coherence of the built environment.

The  importance  of urban design was further  reiterated  by Smith (1974) who stated  that:

"All  the  right strategic decisions may be  made,  and  the planning theory used may be   impeccable,   but if   the   physical  consequences  do not add up to a satisfactory  and  vigorous (physical)  environment,   good decisions  are  of  no consequence".

In addition to the above, Alexander (1987) also  highlighted the  role of urban design in achieving a sense of  wholeness in urban areas. He described old beautiful towns and  cities as  somehow "organic", and the idea of "organicness" is  not an analogy but a precise vision of a specific quality of  an urban area. According to Alexander (1987):

"Towns and cities can grow as a whole, under its own laws of wholeness... and we can feel this wholeness not only at  the largest  scale but in every detail, in restaurants,  in  the sidewalks,  in  the  houses, shops,   markets, roads,  parks, gardens and walls. Even in the balconies and ornaments".

Alexander  (1987) further noted that this quality no  longer exist in towns and cities built and being built at  present, because  neither  architecture, nor urban design,  nor  city planning take the creation of such a quality of wholeness as part of their task:

"City planning is too preoccupied with  the  implementation of ordinances, architecture is too much pre-occupied with  the   problems  of   individual buildings and urban  design  has  a sense of dilettantism: as if the problem could be solved  on a visual level, as an aesthetic matter".

After  bludgeoning the discipline of urban design with  his criticisms,  Alexander  (1987) changed tone  by  emphasizing that  among all existing disciplines related to urban  planning, urban design is the one which comes closest to accepting the responsibility of creating the city's wholeness.

Alongside the concept of "wholeness"  is what was  described by  Hedman and Jazewski (1984) as "coherence". According  to them:

"While  individual structure may be  attractive and visually appealing in themselves   (thanks  to   the   skills   of architects),  the cumulative effect be otherwise".

In  other  words,  no coherence and  satisfying  pattern  of development  is achieved. There is no synergy as  the  whole does  come out as greater than the summed-up  attractiveness of its parts. In short, no sense of place is attained. Urban design  could make the difference in this aspect because  it is the discipline which has the capability to see things  in a wider perspective.

It is in regard of the above points  that the role of  an urban  design  planner in the process of urban  planning  is deemed genuinely prominent.

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