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Although each city and its problems are unique, there are some general sets of activities in most urban design studies. The following are four basic phases and some subphases.

  • 1. Analysis
  • • Gathering of basic information
  • • Visual survey
  • • Identification of hard and soft areas
  • • Functional analysis
  • 2. Synthesis
  • 3. Evaluation
  • 4. Implementation.


Gathering of Basic Information. Basic information is gathered on such items as land use, population, transportation, natural systems, and topography. In addition, the designers make a careful examination of the varied character of the site and the structure of neighborhoods and business areas. Problems and design goals are identified. For a residential development the designer might consider the following:

  • 1. Suitability of the topography; that is, slope or flood plains
  • 2. Land area required for the new units
  • 3. Amount of traffic generated and necessary roadways to accommodate it
  • 4. Adequacy of public utilities
  • 5. Parking space requirements
  • 6. Additional requirements for schools, parks, and playgrounds
  • 7. Relevant zoning and subdivision ordinances.

For a commercial development, the designer might also consider the buying income of surrounding residential areas, likely "absorption rates" for commercial space, and the competitive strength of nearby commercial areas.

Visual Survey. In The Image of the City, Kevin Lynch describes the concept and key elements of the visual survey.4 The idea is that as each of us walks around the city, we create a mental map of it. This mental map makes us feel less anxious about finding our way about. Lynch developed a vocabulary of symbols that enables the urban designer to characterize in graphic form the key elements of the urban fabric. The visual survey is now considered a standard part of any urban design study and is used as a tool by designers to communicate their perceptions of the structure and organization of a city or neighborhood to one another. The visual survey examines and identifies components of the city such as the location and views of landmarks and activity nodes. It reveals where the boundaries between neighborhoods are and whether they are clear and distinct or amorphous. The survey also explores the sequence of spaces a pedestrian might encounter in walking from one part of the city to another.

Identification of Hard and Soft Areas. Cities, and the neighborhoods and districts that comprise them, are in a constant state of change. Although this dynamic condition may not be seen easily from one day to the next, over the time span of 5, 10, or 15 years it becomes quite apparent.

The delineation of hard and soft areas helps the designer to know what parts of the city can accommodate growth and change and what parts are essentially fixed because they may be occupied, for example, by a historic landmark or cemetery. A good example of a hard area is a public park near the central business district of a large city. It is extremely unlikely that any development will be allowed to take place in that area. A soft area may be a neighborhood or business district with an increasing number of vacancies. Such information is of considerable value in the later stages of the urban design process when plans must be evaluated for feasibility.

Functional Analysis. The functional analysis examines the relationship of activities among the various land uses and the way in which they relate to circulation systems. This study builds very heavily on the work of the land-use planners. However, the urban designer carries the study into three dimensions.

For example, in virtually every major downtown there is a problem of excessive congestion and traffic on the streets. It is therefore important to consider the real consequences of plans in three dimensions and the way in which they might change over time.

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