Urban Design Reclaimed

Tools, Techniques, and Strategies for Planners

By Emily Talen

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There are two kinds of urban design: the kind that shapes skylines and the kind that shapes communities. For the past several decades, planners — who are trained to think about how communities function — have ceded their role in urban design to architects-who are trained to think about how buildings look.

In Urban Design Reclaimed, Emily Talen challenges planners to reengage in urban design to ensure that it supports diverse, sustainable, vibrant and equitable communities. She shows planners how design influences their ability to reach social goals such as diversity, environmental sensitivity, sense of place, and quality of life — and how they can influence design.

This how-to book provides some of the tools planners need to get back in the game. Through a set of 10 exercises, it provides an urban design vocabulary and corresponding set of applications that are specifically targeted to non-architects.

About the Author

Emily TalenEmily Talen, AICP, is a professor in the Schools of Geographical Sciences, School of Sustainability, and School of Planning, 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 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.

A Q&A With the Author

Please describe in paragraph form what your book is about. What are the benefits or values for readers?

"This book is about helping planners, community activists, neighborhood proponents — anyone — understand and do urban design. It makes urban design accessible. The material is different in that it does not require one to be an architect in order to be an urban designer. It demystifies and socializes urban design, making it a community-based activity. The book is unique in its merger of social data and urban design — and this is especially relevant for planners.

"Urban Design Reclaimed is an easy-to-use manual of exercises. The 10 exercises are organized as a step-by-step guide. Anyone with a little background in GIS (and a few other commonly used software programs) can get up and running with the exercises in not time.

"The book includes details for course instruction: a detailed list of study questions and classroom activities. There are a number of 'sidebars' that provide additional material useful for urban design, such as where to go to find out more about traffic calming techniques. There is also an illustrated glossary, and an appendix of technical details on how the figures were created."

Is there a particular segment of the planning profession or any nonplanning professional groups that might be especially interested in your book?

"This book is for anyone who believes that the design of the built environment is important. While it is intended for urban planners, architects, landscape architects, geographers, and community activists working in the field, the book could also serve as a text for students in any course that touches on issues of neighborhood, place, and community."

List any associations or groups that might be interested in your book.

"The following groups should be interested: the Environmental Design Research Association (EDRA); the 'urban' or 'community' wings of academic groups like the sociologists, economists, geographers, and historians; and anyone connected with sustainability, smart growth, livable cities, walkable cities, and new urbanism (particularly The Congress for the New Urbanism or CNU)."

What makes your book different from other publications on similar topics?

"There are many urban design books. The main differences are that 1) this book is oriented to non-architects; 2) it offers step-by-step instruction in the form of complete exercises; and 3) it merges geographic, locational, and social understanding of urban places with design of the built environment (that is fairly unique, especially as a book of exercises).

What is it about your book that would convince people buy it?

"I would tell people the following: This book is easy to use! You TOO can be an urban designer — you don't have to be an architect!  Have you ever thought that you'd really like to make a proposal for changing your community or neighborhood, and didn't think you had the skill to accomplish it? This book of step-by-step instruction can get you up and running!"

Product Details

Page Count
Date Published
April 15, 2009
APA Planners Press

Table of Contents

List of Tables


Group 1: The Bigger Picture
Exercise 1: Neighborhoods
Exercise 2: Transects
Exercise 3: Connections

Group 2: Basics
Exercise 4: Centers
Exercise 5: Edges Exercise 6: Mix Exercise 7: Proximity

Group 3: Recurrent Issues
Exercise 8: Density
Exercise 9: Parking
Exercise 10: Traffic




"Ideas are nice. Implementation is nicer. Talen succeeds in taking theory to the streets (and culs-de-sac) with her focused and inspired toolkit."

—Allison Arieff
"By Design" Columnist,
New York Times

"Bravo to Emily Talen for producing an introductory, hands-on guide to prepare planners to plan again! Her series of well-organized case-based exercises in new urbanist analytical and design techniques focus attention on the basic steps of proactive, community-based physical planning. Simple graphic tools provide highly useful up-to-date methods for layering data and informing local decision-making. While architects may bristle at Talen's characterization of their urban design efforts as primarily formalist, they too would do well to heed her critique and learn from her thickened approach to placemaking."

—Ellen Dunham-Jones
Director of Architecture Program, College of Architecture, Georgia Institute of Technology