Urban design and city planning is complicated and for experts only? Michael Dehoyos takes us on a stroll through San Francisco and proves that with a little imagination, anyone can become an urban planner.
When you walk around San Francisco, what is the first thing that comes to mind? The urban landscape. From the Golden Gate Bridge to the San Francisco Bay area, to Chinatown – the possibilities seem endless when it comes to urban landscaping. Every time I look up at a tall building or establishment, I see how far innovation has taken its creations built by dedicated engineers, architects, city planners, and the rest of construction, of course. So, there is no denying that urban landscaping allows imaginations to run amuck and creates what we see today as the Golden Gate Bridge, Chinatown, the works!
Now, with that said, I can imagine there are a myriad of factors that go into urban planning that can be overwhelming at times – striking a balance between economic demands and sustainability, or between conflicted stakeholders in a fiercely contested space, can be challenging in the extreme. However, urban planners are also uniquely placed to create spaces that promote harmony. No matter the skillset – novice or expert – having the right perspective can make urban planning projects come to life. Here are five planning tips for anyone who wants to give it a try!
1. Build the City of Tomorrow, Without the Constraints of Today
Being a planner will most likely constrain you to numerous things – budgeting, the physical space and so forth. However, one thing that should not constrain us is our imagination. Planners should be inherently forward-looking in their outlook – every definition of plan contains an element of forecasting.
It is easy to look around our cities and use what exists already as inspiration. However, looking to the past will never generate a truly powerful vision for the future. We should consider the aspirations of our environment and build our cities with a positive outlook in mind. Whether this means increasing green spaces, shrinking road layouts to make room for sustainable modes of transport or visualising community hubs – as city planners, we are building the city of tomorrow, so we should cast off the constraints of today.
This perspective is also a powerful tool for breaking out of complacency or a lack of imagination. Urban planners should continuously ask themselves where they are drawing their inspiration from, and if the answer is the ideas of yesterday then it is time to break out into new territory.
2. Be Informed by The Big Picture
City planners should indeed be looking to the next several decades of growth to create functional new spaces. To do so, we need access to a range of data about population growth, economic requirements and other demographic trends in order to build a space that remains relevant in the future. Often, this data comes in the form of graphs acting omnisciently, but they rarely tell the whole story. Do not let the narrow focus of a few economic projections take over your whole project!
To ensure urban planning projects stay truly relevant in the future, we should place specific projections in the back seat and begin to inform our decision-making with big-picture sustainable thinking. History has demonstrated time and again that today’s assumptions about tomorrow’s world become laughably outdated, so a sustainable model of development is essential in allowing our constructions to be malleable to the needs of the future. Taking the opinions of local citizens and leaders onboard, using tools like surveys, or even just asking people directly what they think should be done in their local community, is key for building a space people will love and use for years to come.
3. Embrace a Layered Environment
Our urban environment is made up of several layers which need to be considered to produce truly functional landscapes. In my opinion, these fall into three broad categories – economic, social and physical needs. In the “real” world, economic considerations often come first as these will create the outer limits of where projects can go. Working with local councils as well as other stakeholders such as businesses and charities should be the first step to assessing the needs of the project you are approaching.
Once the economic boundaries have been understood, social considerations can take place. These are the looser requirements of the local community and combating social inequality to build sustainable environments that work for everyone in it. Lastly, the physical considerations of a project will come into play. The local environment, weather systems, and available resources will ultimately play a significant role in any project – but we should not let them limit our imaginative capacity.
4. Weatherproof Projects
Local microclimates should be central to our thinking when approaching a new project, and this is another regard where planning for the future rather than the present moment is essential to the longevity of your project. Climate change is causing increasingly wide fluctuations in seasonal weather as well as producing more frequent “exceptional” events. Analysis of wind and rain is crucial to projects that will stand the test of time. With an idea of how the weather and climate will affect the space you are building, you can better choose what strength of materials to use, as well as choosing to set up appropriate sustainable energy sources.
5. The Pedestrian Is King
Our contemporary cities are heavily reliant on motorised transport and particularly private automobiles. Yet when it comes to experience, the pedestrian is more closely linked to the landscape – whilst the driver speeds through, the pedestrian absorbs every element of their surroundings. We should therefore place the pedestrian at the centre of urban planning projects and create a space that works for everyone, including both people with and without disabilities.
Urban planning is an incredibly powerful tool, with each project immersing you in a future world of your own shaping! Now, whether we want to build the next Golden Gate Bridge or the next San Francisco Bay area, it is entirely up to us. Hopefully, these tips are helpful for anyone who wants to create functional and sustainable spaces for the people and cities of tomorrow.