July 11, 2019
IN 2012, the Unesco named Beijing the best designed city in the world. Beijing is China’s cultural center with more than 3,000 years of history behind it. Known for its legendary “hutong” — alleys formed by rows of traditional courtyard residences — the city is home to several creative clusters and to thousands of people employed in the design sector. The city hosts the Beijing Design Week, China Red Star Design Award, Beijing Fashion Week and other events to attract thousands of visitors to its creative urban environment every year. Other Asian cities like Singapore, Seoul and Nagoya also enjoy a similar status. They are part of the 15 cities that Unesco has identified that place creativity and cultural industries at the heart of their development plans. To meet Unesco’s criteria, these cities must enhance the quality of life for people and be environmentally sustainable. They are cities with high quality urban design and city planning.
Urban design is often mistaken for urban planning. While the former is concerned with the improvement of the physical environment, the latter deals more closely with the management of private development through established planning methods and programs. Urban design involves the arrangement and design of buildings, public spaces, transport systems, services and amenities (Urban European Knowledge Network). It employs an inclusive approach to place-making, using architecture, landscaping and urban planning to design large landscapes, towns and cities, districts and neighborhoods with coherent principles of organization.
To improve the living conditions in an area, we can introduce quality facilities and infrastructure. Architectural landscaping coupled with proper urban planning is key to improving the quality of life of citizens. As professionals in the planning, architecture and design professions, we must learn how to incorporate these activities effectively into the fabric of community life.
Kevin Lynch, in his famous book Image of the City, argued that the visual quality of the environment determines how well people remember their surroundings. The design of a city gives one a sense of place. Landmarks and nodes for instance, are crucial in making a city easy to navigate for someone who is new in the area. The elements of the city include: paths, edges, districts, nodes and landmarks. They are designed with various principles in mind such as pedestrian use, traffic, climatic conditions, historic preservation, visual character, population and people’s safety.
Urban designers may also focus on designing other elements such as the town square, farmland and residential areas, facades of buildings, gardens, the plaza, an arcade or atrium, railway stations, public art and airports.
Palafox Associates and Palafox Architecture Group have undertaken a number of urban design projects. A vision of the future appearance of a certain place is documented in our postcards of the future where we can see the transformation of the urban landscape. For most of the cities we planned, the recommendations include the appropriation of a third of the road to landscaping and trees, another third to pedestrians and bicycles, and the remaining third to moving traffic. As in the case of waterfront developments, their design and landscaping will improve the aesthetic and convenience of living, working, and playing in the area. Our postcards of the future depict urban design plans for the Pasig River, San Juan River, Marikina River, Manila Bay, Laguna Lake, Metro Davao and many bridges and walkways, cities and islands here and elsewhere in the world.
Urban design is beneficial to the community. The improvement of a street, the construction of walkways and the architectural landscaping of public spaces create a safe environment where people can thrive. These places become attractive spaces where people meet and connect, and they also promote economic activity and community development.
Through this perspective, it becomes clear that urban design can play a critical role in resolving problems that governmental programs cannot. In a number of American, European and Asian cities and in some developed countries, community design centers provide planning, design and technical assistance to low- and moderate-income urban and rural communities. People working in these centers have the opportunity to work for social, economic and environmental justice as they resolve community-based development needs. Community design centers in several cities plan and design with community-based organizations and residents. They educate them to participate in the process of directing change.
Daniel Burnham, the American architect and urban planner who conceptualized the City Beautiful plan of Manila, once said, “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably will themselves not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will not die.” As urban planners and architects in the Philippines, we can plan and design our cities sustainably, and help every city realize its shared vision. Palafox’s mission is to plan and design a sustainable future for all and create value in every place, building and community. We bring Philippine cities to a point where they will be able to join the league of the best cities in the world.
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