The Current Approach of Urban Design, its Implications for Sustainable Urban Development

Nuwan Dias , Steve Curwell, Erik Bichard

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


Urban Design derived as a separate profession after the determinations of the 1956 international conference about the future of cities that took place in Harvard's Graduate School. City beautification was the fundamental purpose of urban design at the time it was introduced as a separate profession. Over time, the scope and objectives of the urban design have changed. Today Urban design plays a key role in the creation of sustainable communities in terms of the “triple bottom line,” that is the three dimensions of life–economic, e.g. well-paid jobs, social e.g. good schools and sports facilities and environmental e.g. clear air, clean rivers, beautiful places to live, work and play. So today urban design seeks to enhance the life of the city and its inhabitants in socio-economic & environmental terms. However the current approach to urban design is mainly top down, i.e., generally the architects or the planners design the urban environment and at the implementation stage the community may have some involvement. There are serious criticisms of this approach as it may not touch the “ground” community level and therefore there is a serious risk these projects will fail to create sustainable environments. The criticism is that the experts in development simply comply with requirements of funding agencies in the development and this top down process may alienate local community members and fail to capture locally significant factors. Through a re-examination of the literature on this topic this paper argues that a proper bottom up approach will help to achieve better performance against the sustainability indicators. It also explores the strengths and weaknesses in the classic top down approach to urban development which provides early high level planning solutions, whereas although a bottom-up approach can make more sense because the professionals have a strong base of understanding of the place with the help of effective participation from the concerned stakeholders it takes more time and commitment from all parties involved. Therefore this paper explores the gap between the current top down approach and a bottom up approach in urban design towards the creation sustainable urban environments.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)497-504
Number of pages8
JournalProcedia Economics and Finance
Early online date30 Dec 2014
Publication statusPublished - 30 Dec 2014
Externally publishedYes
Event4th International Conference on Building Resilience - Salford Quays, Manchester, United Kingdom
Duration: 8 Sep 201411 Sep 2014
Conference number: 4


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