Best planning and implementation toolbox

Urban Design and Streetscape:

Purpose of Tool:
Urban design is a planning and architectural practice that specifically considers the appearance and functionality of urban public space and buildings. It provides a framework to preserve a community’s existing development and guidelines for new construction or redevelopment that protect the city’s overall positive characteristics. Urban design incorporates concepts such as building design, public spaces, environmental stewardship, transportation, public art, and other amenities that contribute to the overall shape and character of an urban area. Urban design principles can be used to plan or envision an area as small as a city block, or on a much larger scale such as a city or region. Often urban design includes a focus on urban redevelopment and/or sustainability. Components often incorporated in cities through the urban design process are parks and open spaces, restoration of street grid systems, pedestrian and bicycle features, cultural heritage, mixed-use development, public transportation, and an overall sense of place.
Urban design applies to three-dimensional aspects of the built environment: buildings, streets, sidewalks, parks, and plazas. These aspects are addressed through tools that enhance aesthetics, such as streetscaping, landscaping, building setbacks, and common architectural guidelines. Streetscaping gives a particular “look and feel” to roads, aiding in improving the area’s livability and quality of life. Architectural guidelines include certain types of building materials, standard signage, and architectural style.

Benefits of Using Tool:
Implementation of urban design principles help create an inviting and attractive built environment that promotes a city’s image while creating more livable spaces. Creating a quality urban environment through building design and streetscaping promotes communities that are pedestrian friendly, foster a sense of place and safety, and are human scaled. The placement, height, scale and design of buildings and their relationship to the street have a tremendous impact on an area becoming a place where people feel safe and enjoy walking. This encourages more activity at the street level, as well as discourages crime by adding more life and “eyes on the street”. Trees and landscaping create aesthetically pleasing and comfortable walking environments, offering protection from the outdoor elements and helping to create a more comfortable outdoor environment.

Steps Involved to Use Tool:
Urban design principles are typically applied to areas through the use of regulatory guidelines, voluntary measures, or in the planning and design of engineering or public works projects. Major design elements within the area must be defined. This includes, but is not limited to, streets, trees and open space, buildings, pedestrian areas and walkways, and neighborhoods. Citizens interested in improving the urban design of neighborhoods or other design elements can encourage the development of new or modified local ordinances, such as the local zoning code, to achieve better urban design. Communities can also create urban design guidelines or use overlay districts to identify additional “special requirements” for areas needing urban design enhancements.

Special Requirements to Use Tool:
The following sources should be considered for implementing urban design and streetscaping strategies:
  • Current standards and zoning codes (if applicable) should be reviewed to ensure that designs comply
  • Designs should address the travel needs of all transportation systems including motorists, bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit riders.
  • New area comprehensive plans, thoroughfare plans, downtown or activity center plans, or other available planning studies should be developed or amended to encourage and incorporate the use of urban design principles and elements.
  • Other urban design standards should be consulted, such as Austin, TX (http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/downtown/downloads/urban_design_guidelines_for_austin.pdf), Charlotte, NC (http://charmeck.org/Departments/Transportation/Urban+Street+Design+Guidelines.htm), or Los Angeles (http://charmeck.org/Departments/Transportation/Urban+Street+Design+Guidelines.htm). These standards address elements such as streetscaping, building facades, street design, and landscaping.

    It is also important that the local government or planning body have staff that is familiar with urban design principles in order to effectively use the tool in its greatest capacity.

    Specials Resources Needed to Use Tool:
    The most valuable resource in using urban design principles is a familiarity with all of the tools available so that those chosen for a particular area are best-suited to meet its goals and objectives. This includes knowledge of urban planning, engineering, architecture, and landscape architecture.

    Communities / Agencies that Have Used Tool:
    Urban design has successfully been utilized in many places, including:
  • Downtown Raleigh, NC: The City of Raleigh, NC has implemented the Urban Design Center, a program that serves to apply an urban design-centered approach to planning issues in the City. It primarily seeks to update the downtown plan particularly to enhance its livability and walkability. Through the Urban Design Center, a Downtown Urban Design Guide and Urban Design Guidelines for Mixed Use/Village Centers were created to aid in the implementation process. For more information, contact:

    Dan Douglas - AICP - Urban Design Center Division Manager
    919-516-2626
    One Exchange Plaza, Suite 304
    Raleigh, NC, 27601 http://www.raleighnc.gov/portal/server.pt/gateway/PTARGS_0_0_306_200_0_43/http;/pt03/DIG_Web_Content/category/Business/Strategic_Planning/Urban_Design/Cat-Index.html


  • City of Austin 2nd Street Streetscape, from http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/downtown/ssdsip.htm
    City of Austin, TX: The City of Austin, TX has conducted the Second Street District Streetscape Improvement Project in downtown Austin. This project seeks to enhance the identity of the downtown area by creating a public-friendly setting that links the new City Hall with the Convention Center Complex. Second Street is the spine between these two destinations, and the City of Austin plans to make it pedestrian-dominant. For more information, contact:

    Michael Knox
    Department of Economic Growth and Redevelopment
    512-974-6415
    P.O. Box 1088
    Austin, TX, 7876
    http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/downtown/ssdsip.htm

    Metrics to Use to Monitor Tool Effectiveness:
    Success of urban design can be determined largely through the comprehensive planning process (if required). By comparing the results of urban design in a particular area with the comprehensive planning efforts in the same area, the planning body can determine if the applied urban design principles have enabled the community to reach its goals and objectives. Additionally, the level of use of the newly-designed space after urban design principles have been implemented, such as pedestrian usage or activity intensity, can indicate its success.

    List of Resources to Obtain Additional Info:
    For more information, please see:
  • Urban Design: The Center for Design Excellence, http://www.urbandesign.org/
  • City of Raleigh, NC Urban Design Center, http://www.raleighnc.gov/portal/server.pt/gateway/PTARGS_0_0_306_200_0_43/http;/pt03/DIG_Web_Content/category/Business/Strategic_Planning/Urban_Design/Cat-Index.html
  • City of Austin, TX Second Street District Streetscape Improvement Project, http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/downtown/ssdsip.htm
  • “Rose Quarter Urban Design Plan and Development Strategy – Urban Design Principles,” Urban Design Associates, http://www.pdc.us/pdf/dev_serv/pubs/dev_rosequarter_urban_principles.pdf