Designing the Spaces Between Buildings: An Introduction to Urban Design and Planning

Urban Design 101

Urban design is about the space between buildings. Effective treatment of this space has aesthetic, social and functional ramifications.

The course provides an introduction to the interdisciplinary field of urban design. It surveys the major subfields of city planning including economic development, transportation, environmental planning and housing. Prerequisite: upper-division standing.

Site Planning

As the name suggests, site planning involves laying out the positioning of buildings and other structures on land. It differs from a floor plan, which shows the layout for a single structure, in that it takes into account foundational aspects of the land itself like slopes, drainage and tree cover.

It’s also important to understand that the work of a site planner doesn’t stop at creating workable layouts for the land. Planners must also make sure that their designs comply with all relevant laws, regulations and policies.

Several of my interviewees pointed out that a good site planner needs to be a “jack-of-all-trades,” able to work well in a multidisciplinary team. They need to know what architects, engineers and civil and traffic planners are doing, and be able to communicate with them in their own language. They need to be able to look at a site and see how different disciplines might approach it, and then put those pieces together in their own mind’s eye.

Planning for Pedestrians and Bicycles

The principles of urban design that create walkable, sociable spaces are as important for pedestrians and bicyclists as they are for cars. These principles are rooted in the work of famous planners like Gordon Cullen, Camillo Sitte, and Jane Jacobs.

A key element of these principles is recognizing that people have a variety of needs and capacities. This means that, for example, corners must be designed to not block the vision of pedestrians and drivers. It also means that transit stops must provide space for passengers to board and alight, including those in wheelchairs.

In addition, guidelines might require that sidewalks be kept free of furnishings and obstructions for the safety and comfort of users. This might include the requirement that eight feet of sidewalk (length adjacent to curb) be clear of obstacles. It might also include requirements for facilities to support walking and biking, such as bike racks, lockers, and showers. This might include programs to encourage and promote the use of these facilities.

Planning for the Built Environment

The course is designed for students interested in a career in real estate or development. It examines a broad range of planning issues, including the development process and environmental impacts. This course also explores regulatory systems as they impact the private sector of real estate development. Prerequisite: upper-division standing.

Coastal Management: Problems and Strategies

This course is for juniors, seniors and graduate students. It provides an overview of the challenges faced by coastal communities and different strategies for managing them in a changing world.

This course introduces the student to the field of Urban Design, its interdisciplinary nature, and important paradigm shifts. It begins with Team 10’s schism with CIAM (Congres Internationaux d’Architecture Moderne) and introduces ideas such as Human Association that shifts the design focus from individual patron to the urban population.

Planning for Sustainability

From defining land use policies in an urban plan to designing an area development framework, the role of urban design is essential. It is responsible for how cities, towns and villages move. It also is responsible for how they will evolve and grow, both in the near and long term.

Urban planning has gone through many paradigm shifts. The election of Reagan and the advent of Neoliberalism shifted the discipline to emphasize capitalistic gains over environmental protection, which led to exclusionary design practices and the death of Modernism. The Brundtland Report and Silent Spring brought new awareness of how human settlements can have negative impacts on ecological systems. This led to the creation of what is called The Planner’s Triangle, a framework that exposes conflicts between Economic Development, Environmental Protection and Equity and Social Justice.

This course will examine the role of public policy and planning in determining the future of cities, suburbs and metropolitan regions. Topics may include urban decline and growth, infrastructure, environmental quality and class and income polarization.

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