Our cities are made up of life and movement. More recently, they’ve been bearing the weight of booming populations and the demand for ideal living spaces.
To accommodate both, there needs to be a combination of players to resolve these challenges. Planners, engineers, architects, and a range of other professions.
But what about urban designers?
Urban designs focus on everything in between, not just the buildings or the infrastructure, but the spaces that bring us together on the ground.
These are communal parks where families gather or serene walkways that offer respite from urban chaos. It's about designing spaces that resonate with human experiences, bridging the gaps and enhancing the intricate relationship between built structures and human life.
Urban design and population density
Beyond aesthetics, urban design is about constructing a dialogue between spaces. Each walkway, green space, and public area serves as a thread weaving the fabric of a community.
However, as population densities grow, urban spaces aren't expanding proportionally, creating an imbalance that challenges their usability.
With limited land for the rising population, improving urban environmental conditions can extend the usability of outdoor spaces. This prolonged use would benefit communities, accommodating different users throughout the day and in varying weather.
Urban Design around the world
As urban design is all about the inclusion of spaces and people, it makes sense to look at how people work within their spaces worldwide.
The infamous Maeklong Railway Market in Bangkok, Thailand, shows us how we can live alongside our roads. This busy market is uniquely placed – a train track runs right through the middle of it.
Whenever a train approaches, the vendors swiftly retract their canopies and shift their stalls out of the way (just barely). Once the train moves on, the sellers promptly return their stalls to their original spots and continue on with their business.
While this doesn’t look like the most ideal way to live, it does tell us something about how we can intertwine with our infrastructure.
For us, we can look to utilising data on road usage. Streets in New Zealand that are predominantly busy during rush hours but remain vacant otherwise offer unique opportunities. By introducing movable bollards, these streets can be transformed into communal spaces when not taken up by heavy traffic.
In Hong Kong, the Pinnacle @ Duxton is a prominent public housing development consisting of seven connected towers. What makes this structure unique is its two skybridges, one of which is located on the 26th floor and the other on the 50th floor, known as the Pinnacle Sky Garden. This expansive sky garden on the 50th floor is open to the public and provides green communal spaces, jogging paths, and spectacular panoramic city views.
The space acts as a recreational area, reduces the heat island effect, and in the broader context of urban planning, such elevated spaces can provide respite during events like floods.
With new housing intensification in the near future and the Auckland floods in the not-so-distant past, we need to start looking around to see how we can best evolve our urban areas to adapt to the demanding needs of people and the environment.
But what about cost?
All of this, of course, sounds wonderful. Who wouldn’t want to live in a community where every nook and cranny is thoughtfully considered and utilised to meet our needs as people on a very fundamental level?
Despite that, we won’t shy away from what’s likely on your mind: cost.
It’s often initially perceived that urban space enhancements are an added expense. However, such initiatives can yield positive publicity, emphasising a developer’s commitment to climate change mitigation.
There's also potential for collaboration with local governments. For instance, offering public spaces in a building could earn developers the right to add extra floors. Such trade-offs could incentivise the incorporation of these mitigation measures.
At Woods, our urban design team advocates for enhancing natural spaces and ensures we integrate nature into urban spaces for a better living experience.
For example, in the master-planned development of Paerata Rise, our team included a dedicated two-way cycleway which linked the northern region to the future Paerata Train Station.
The inclusion of this in the design contributes to physical and mental community health while facilitating social interactions among residents in a safe space. With people and community at its core, the urban design of Paerata Rise sets a benchmark for future community-centric developments.
Moving forward with urban design
Our urban spaces are reflections of our values, our needs, and our evolving environment. As we stand at the crossroads of growing urban populations and environmental challenges, the role of urban design becomes key.
Without thoughtful urban design, we risk neglecting the connective tissues of our communities - the public spaces, walkways, and communal areas - that make a city truly liveable.
The balancing act of accommodating more people in the same amount of space challenges us to reimagine and reinvent our urban fabric, ensuring it's inclusive, resilient, and adaptive to the changing needs of its inhabitants.
Get in touch with our team to see how we can work together to create these thoughtful and innovative spaces.