In these economically challenging times we’re all looking to cut spending on non-essentials. In the world of planning and development, it seems the discipline of urban design is sometimes now seen as non-essential. However urban design is arguably more important than ever; getting the right masterplan in place now can create the right pre-conditions for delivery when the market picks up. And urban designers can bring much more to the table than you might think, through:
Facilitating discussion and agreement
Urban designers can adeptly facilitate discussion between project partners and stakeholders to ensure cooperation and joint working towards common objectives and agreed outcomes. Getting this process right is essential to provide a firm basis for delivery, and reduces programme and delivery risks. Facilitated workshops with project partners and stakeholders can be an excellent means of provoking thought, testing constraints and capturing aspirations. Done well, they can also provide a hands-on means of exploring spatial options. Tools as simple as a large-scale plan and wooden blocks can get people thinking about spatial approaches for development. This straightforward technique helped us come up with three different concepts for redeveloping the Elstree Way Corridor in Borehamwood, from which a preferred solution was then developed.
Creating value as well as ‘place’
Urban designers understand that a masterplan for an area like the Elstree Way Corridor must provide the functional basis for creating a high quality place, whilst also helping optimise development value. In the Elstree Way Corridor the poor quality of the built environment and public realm presented an opportunity to review the area in its entirety, and establish coherent guidance to create a vital, vibrant place. To this end, masterplan options were underpinned by robust and functional design principles that set foundations for a high quality place as well as a spatial structure to optimise development value. Particularly critical was taking account of a complex set of land ownership considerations to achieve a masterplan which was not predicated on the development of any one site. The preferred masterplan provided a workable solution which could create development value and which all project partners were happy to sign up to. Additionally, the masterplan can be used as a ‘sales tool’ to attract developers and unite stakeholders behind a high quality vision for the area.
Encouraging future delivery
Urban designers consider the parameters that affect deliverability to try (with development viability experts) to create the right pre-conditions for delivery. The result is designs that are realistic, financially feasible, and attractive to a development partner. Urban designers test the quantum of development that can be accommodated on site. Development viability experts can then advise how financially attractive different options are, and what else is required to encourage delivery. Elstree Way Corridor presented a tricky set of requirements including reprovision of various public services. An essential part of the process was therefore to consider spatial and cost requirements of reprovision to create a masterplan that is commercially viable, resilient to a changing property market, and deliverable.
Raising property prices
Finally, urban designers can add value by creating high quality environments that, once delivered, generate higher property prices. This link was demonstrated in our Paved with Gold study for CABE, which showed that the quality of a high street can add up to 35 per cent to the price of homes and to the level of retail rents. This relationship was shown to exist, regardless of all the other things likely to affect prices (e.g. income levels, public transport quality, range of shops). The creation of high quality streets and spaces can make a major difference to market values in the long run. Ultimately therefore, urban designers can not only help create great places; they can help aid the development process and add value at all levels.