Urban design is the art and science of making communities for people. It is the process by which communities—cities, towns and neighbourhoods—are planned, designed and built. A successful career in urban design requires mastery of three major roles:
The urban designer should be trained in the many urban languages of the world. History, culture, relationships and transitions all matter. You also need language to articulate urban design substance and comparison.
These skills focus not on objects in space, but on the collective question of how space defines a collection of elements that shape communities. The study of architecture, landscape architecture, planning and civil engineering provide technical grounding that is a lifelong pursuit—not merely a collection of degrees.
Urban design makes sense of overlaps, edges and the integration of place-making and place-keeping. Even the social, economic and physical consciences are integrated parts of a progressive urban design process—not separate and isolated pursuits.
The effective urban designer does not play the music; he creates a symphony of many musicians. The accomplished urban designer also leaves his or her ego at the door. In other words, the goal is not self-recognition, but understanding and coordinating many views and perspectives.
Through understanding the technical foundations and languages of urban design, the urban designer works as part of an interdisciplinary team that assembles the various urban design plans that could include land use, mobility, housing, public realm, social programming and economic strategies. The ability to change tracks, translate, comprehend and shape the best directions into a number of options for review is the urban designer’s craft.
Finally, seasoned urban designers need to be able to tell stories that are comprehensive yet comprehensible, and translate those stories for many different audiences with different interests and goals. Political mastery is paramount. The true urban designer is the active listener, yet the presenter of many voices. The ability to touch hearts, inspire, reach out, and take measured risks is at the passionate core of the urban designer. To draw skillfully and create a memorable urban signature, or one that is invisible in its genius, and that transcends time, is the magic of the thoughtful urban designer.
In the end, sometimes courage and selflessness, within measured limits of flexibility, set the resilient urban designer apart. The mastery of urban design is the mastery of mankind’s habitat, which has endless potential.