Archives for posts with tag: urban design

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.


For five days of last week, I joined about 50 MUPs from our program in an educational trip to Philadelphia, PA, where we embraced the city through a variety of tours, discussions, and exhibitions.  One aspect that I found to be extremely exciting was the tour I took with the city’s park system administrators at Fairmount Park.

We began at the famous Philadelphia Museum of Art, and discussed the origins, benefits, developments, and trials of the Ben Franklin Parkway, a lovely boulevarded street that connects the museum to City Hall.

Ben Franklin Parkway and extension to City Hall

As we walked along the Parkway, there were many design components that I found intriguing:

Point of View + Viewsheds- the parkway, which was created through demolishing 1700 structures initially, functions much like boulevards in Paris or Washington D.C., creating a viewshed that connects two incredible civic buildings.  The two green, fountained circles along the way (Logan’s Circle and Eakin’ Oval) provide human scale, attainable views, while the magnificent buildings that flank the parkway provide large scale, perspective views that help to give the city character.

One particularly interesting aspect of the importance of view sheds is that when the gentleman’s agreement of 200+  years was broken in 1987 with the Liberty Building rising above William Penn’s hat on City Hall, the city created a viewshed protection that was relatively unique for its time.  There are currently 12 protected viewsheds of City Hall, meaning that from 12 main directions, no building rise to the height that it would be behind a view of City Hall, retaining its silhouette against the sky.

From City Hall Observatory Deck, Mike Mergen for The New York Times

Aesthetics- the importance of continuity whilst not depriving artisans of their creative powers is inherent in the Parkway.  This is seen not only in the classical styled City Hall and main art museum, but with the reflections of them in many of the current and rising civic structures: the main branch of the city’s library, family court, science center, and art museums dedicated to specific artists and collections.  At the same time, Logan’s Circle and Eakin’s Oval boast very different kinds of sculpture and fountains, as well as Love Park further along the Parkway towards City Hall.  The aesthetic balance of continuity and creativity is part of what makes this space so elegantly designed.

City Hall, at one end of the Parkway

Functions- Fairmount Parks is currently struggling with concepts of how to balance every day use of the Parkway with monumental occasions.  For example, how can they keep up nice green areas that are enjoyed by commuters when they are annually trampled by tourists at the gigantic 4th of July celebration?  With federal stimulus dollars, Fairmount is now revitalizing the experience by refurbishing the sidewalks, building more museums along the way, and moving the bike lane away from the central motorized lanes.  There is also a new cafe on the end near city hall that displays information about the Parkway and where tours of it begin.  There is still a major problem with traffic and how to get pedestrians across at Eakin’s Oval, which was changed from a traditional traffic circle to its oval form in the 1950’s urban renewal era.  Hopefully, the functionality of this space for a variety of users will continue to increase.

Executive director Mark Focht explains the pedestrian maps in Fairmount Parks has put inplace

Just thought I’d share some of the things I’ve been working on/experienced lately. That and I want to experiment with putting pictures in posts.

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The pictures from Sweden, Denmark, and Iceland are from a travel studio taken through the University of Michigan’s TCAUP, where we saw many interesting ideas for sustainable architecture, design, and development.  The graphics are some that I created for the final project of that studio; mine in particular was urban infill on the main shopping street.

The Los Angeles River is nearby where I grew up, and I went on an amazing tour of it this summer.  The destruction of the watershed there through concreting the riverbed has has a dramatic impact on the climate and pollution of the city, and theres amazing people working towards at at the Friends of the Los Angeles River.  The image from Louisville is from an annual trip to discover a city, run by second years and taken by first years in the urban planning program at Michigan.

In his book The Image of the City, Kevin Lynch spoke about the idea of “imageability”, or “that quality in a physical object which gives it a high probability of evoking a strong image in any given observer.”[1] The imageability of a city is linked to the five elements he has defined: nodes, paths, landmarks, edges, and districts, all of which can be observed by anyone in any city.  Between these five concepts intertwining and interacting, a person can develop their own image of a city, an interesting convergence of the personal conception and public physicality.

There are two aspects of these elements that I find particularly intriguing: external v. internal, and perspective.

1- The dichotomy of external and internal interactions with the various elements is one of the components that makes them so comprehensive in expressing an urban environment.  Landmarks and edges are elements that are observed from the outside, and they provide direction and definition without a necessary close proximity to the observer.  Districts, paths and nodes, however, are more experienced internally, with the user utilizing them in a physical way.  Of course all of the elements can be used both externally and internally, but I believe the mixing of the two concepts in the creation of an image of a city makes it that much richer.

2-Perspective: it changes everything.  Lynch brought this up in chapter 3 of his book, and I find it fascinating to think that a user with a slightly different purpose can experience the elements of a city in such a different way than I would.  It opens up practically infinite possibilities for what in an urban environment can be defined as any of the elements in particular- not only can your path be my edge, but it could also be my landmark or node.  This is obviously a stretch in many situations, as some elements are more flexible and others are rather linear or spatial, but it still brings up a very important point about imaging a city: one perspective is definitely never enough, and multiples may show a side that a designer has never conceived.

This brings me to the reason I’m discussing Lynchian ideas in this blog: we will be riding the train line from Ann Arbor to Detroit soon, each looking at different aspects along the way, and discovering how those aspects might apply to Lynch’s five elements philosophy.  In first thinking about it, I see the train line as a path, Ann Arbor and Detroit as districts, the train stops as nodes, and many things along the way as landmarks.  I’m not sure what I believe to be the edge in this situation- perhaps the city or county boundaries?  Do social edges count, like that between Detroit and Grosse Point?  I’m curious to see how the trip itself will change the perspectives I have on these elements in relation to the train line we’ll be riding.

[1] Kevin Lynch, The Image of the City. (Cambridge:  MIT Press, 1960), 9

Welcome to the brand-spanking new blog of a grad student as I explore new territories in graphical representation in urban planning and design.  Throughout the next semester and perhaps onwards, I will be posting exciting news, reactions to the course and the field, and graphical projects as I create them.  The hope is that I can take my previous and continuing knowledge of urban planning and stir in a “dash of design” through the experiences in this course, and come out with a more flavorful comprehension of how it all comes together in physical planning.  So here we go!

edit: heres a GIS map that I made quickly and am not happy with; edits to come…516_GIS_Map