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:
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.