What do successful urban designers need?

By Scot Hein

We asked some of our urban design instructors about the most important skills for their craft. Scot Hein shared his thoughts here, in part two of a three-part series.

Olympic Village, Vancouver. Photo by Kenny Louie.

The effective urban designers I know possess a selfless attitude and generosity of spirit. The urban design achievement is never about them. In fact, quite the opposite. They also possess several key characteristics that, I believe, helps make them successful.

They listen to all stakeholders

They will carefully listen to all stakeholders without preconceptions about the solution, and will strive to deeply understand context, and more deeply understand what is behind context, toward a shared discovery of local systems and meaning.

They lead from the front, and from behind

They will orchestrate success by leading from the front and from behind when the moment requires. They will enjoy, and in fact celebrate, others who require profile while quietly being satisfied when the right urban design ideas take form.

Additionally, they will demonstrate discipline and rigour in leading processes that require creative iteration toward shared ownership in the declaration of plans to be implemented.

They communicate effectively

An effective urban designer is a teacher, who will inspire by sharing ideas and precedents in a way that makes them relevant in the moment. They must be able to communicate through effective drawing and writing, visualize the ideas of others that may not initially feel appropriate for the place, technically converse with all of the design disciplines, and be knowledgable enough to sift the good ideas out of the bad.

They're flexible

Effective urban designers are political creatures with self-awareness, and awareness of the interests of others who are participating in design processes. They will recognize the look of shared success while honourably shaping outcomes reflective of best practice.

Furthermore, they are not bound by the moment or fashion. They can appreciate the strategic importance of immediate initiative, while also steering transformation requiring longer timelines to realize.

They're comfortable with the unknown

The effective urban designer is comfortable with the unknown, sees a change in direction as a design opportunity, is always proactive and will take the necessary time to develop their craft. The effective urban designer never stops practicing.

About the author

Scot Hein is campus urban designer and professor in the Master of Urban Design Program at UBC. He was previously the senior urban designer with the City of Vancouver, where his work focused on the downtown core on such initiatives as Woodward's, Southeast False Creek/Olympic Village, a New Housing Plan for Chinatown, the revitalization of Gastown/Victory Square/Hastings Corridor, and related public realm opportunities such as the Carrall Street Greenway/Pigeon Park, Downtown Historic Trail, CPR ROW and the Silk Road.

He is an associate architect with the AIBC and also a registered architect in the state of Washington. He holds degrees in environmental design and architecture and a minor in economics studies from the University of Kansas.