August 18, 2009

Who Is Responsible for Urban Design?

CHICAGO — It is time for urban planners to take back the role of urban designer. Emily Talen, a professor at Arizona State University, believes architects have dominated as urban designers for too long.

In her new book Urban Design Reclaimed: Tools, Techniques, and Strategies for Planners, Talen hopes to inspire planners to take a more active role in urban design. She believes that the disconnect between planning and urban design has had dire consequences for the American built landscape.

Why planners? Talen argues that urban design done by architects focuses mainly on aesthetic qualities. But community-based urban design, with roots in the planning profession, focuses more on the social aspects of a community.

"Planners are best equipped to incorporate social, sustainable and diverse elements within urban design," said Talen. "Urban planning is a lot about design elements. Who better to help establish design decisions than the planners working in a community, and with the community?"

Readers can build their design skills through a series of 10 step-by-step exercises on how to observe, analyze, and design places that are civically minded, well-functioning and pedestrian-oriented. The exercises focus on Chicago's Portage Park community and emphasize the importance of articulating more than one design proposal for any given issue.

The exercises focus on:

  • Delineating neighborhoods
  • Working with transects
  • Improving neighborhood connectivity
  • Enhancing neighborhood centers
  • Proposing design interventions for neighborhood edges
  • Supporting diversity
  • Promoting better proximity
  • Increasing density
  • Minimizing negative effects of parking
  • Mitigating traffic problems

"My book is not written for architects. It is written and designed for planners, citizens and anyone with a love of the physical qualities of neighborhoods," said Talen. "This book relies on the idea that urban design is an important part of creating a more vibrant, sustainable, and socially just community."

Emily Talen discussed Urban Design Reclaimed at APA's 2009 National Planning Conference:

Urban Design Reclaimed: Tools, Techniques, and Strategies for Planners is available through for $74.95. The APA member discounted price in $42.95.

ISBN: 978-1-932364-63-7
Hardcover; 120 pp.

About the author
Emily Talen is a professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University. She is a founding coeditor of the Journal of Urbanism and the author of Design for Diversity: Exploring Socially Mixed Neighborhoods in Chicago and New Urbanism and American Planning: The Conflict of Cultures. She has also worked as a planner with the City of Santa Barbara and in private practice.

Contact and Media Review Copies

Roberta Rewers, APA, 312-786-6395;