There are so many things to consider when designing a city- but when considering urban design specifically, here are what I believe to be the top 10 indicators of a well-designed place (in no particular order):
1 A Space Becomes a Place- the concept of placemaking is absolutely essential in creating good urban design. To go from being just any physical location to a place people feel connected to takes design that considers human scale, culture, and the needs of that specific community as far as use, location, design, and scale.
2 Built on the Past- every city has a history, and a great urban design will incorporate that into new plans. Building on the existing not only saves materials, but helps to create a richer experience rather than a completely new settlement with no character of its own.
3 Connected to the Landscape- it is incredibly important to consider the local ecology of a site before designing it- local watersheds, plant life, and potential impacts the development will have on the land are all vital in creating a good design.
4 Expect the Unexpected- a good design has definition and character, but doesn’t eliminate the possibility of changes in use or additions to the design in later years.
5 Mix and Match- multiple uses in a small area keep “eyes on the street”, as Jane Jacobs would say, keeping streets safer as people use them for different things throughout the day. Mixed-use designs also bring in a wider variety of people, keep places interesting, and continue to thrive even if some uses slow down in the coming years.
6 Cohesion, Not Uniformity- what many Americans love about old European cities are all the stone in old London or whitewashed plaster in Greece- but when we’ve tried to copy that in our suburbs, they just look monotonous. A careful but not demanding palette and material list keeps a design looking cohesive but not over designed and dull.
7 Economically Viable- though its a boring concept, its important to consider the budget you can work with in creating a design. If you create something too extravagant, the entire plan won’t be built, which could really backfire upon the entire design and the livability of the new development.
8 Equitable and Inclusive- designing for one socioeconomic class, whether in housing or retail, will create more socioeconomic disparity than already exists, a boring street life, and an area that outsiders don’t feel welcome in. A good design includes people of all walks of life.
9 Environmentally Conscious- using sustainable materials, considering the weather patterns, and building with green technology are all important factors in design, especially when considering the many problems with climate change and energy usage of today.
10 Focus on the People, Not the Car- for too many years, planners and designers focused on the highway and the car, placing it in importance above the individual person. Wide sidewalks, vegetated medians, street trees, and bulb-outs are all ways of making the pedestrian feel comfortable and slow cars down. If you want your design to have decent street life, be financially stable, and connect to people of all kinds, you need to put the pedestrian first.