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Economic Viability in Urban Design

The Urban Design seminars always give us a meaningful and interesting insights about different aspects related to Urban Design. One of the seminars which caught my attention was the one with Danny Oswell. He talked about the Socioeconomics in Urban Design and the Economic Assessment Toolkit.  Every city has a story to tell. To put it more precisely, it’s important to understand an urban area’s spatial layout in order to comprehend its economic growth. Does it have a compact, circular design that makes life for locals and businesses more productive? Or is it characterized by urban sprawl, which makes commuting times longer?

The spatial relationships among the Urban elements like streets, buildings, furniture, landscapes, etc. play an important role in the livability and the quality of the Urban spaces in a city. Every city has its own pattern when it comes to the character and the livability of the city. There has been much research about how these patterns affect the affect the socioeconomic conditions across spatial scales. The value of Urban Design asks some fundamental questions about the place of architecture and design in the modern society. A good Urban Design should contribute towards the social and economic value with respect to high quality buildings, how the spaces can give back and also the financial and utilitarian terms.

Socioeconomic analysis is an essential element of any Urban Design project. Through understanding the needs of the people living in the city and understanding the human behavior towards the space, we can make the spaces a little bit better every day. He talks about applying the toolkit which can help designers to understand and assess the socioeconomic factors for a space and design according to it. The toolkit makes us consider the following factors:

Demographics is the population related data, which is the people who live in which part of the area. Do they have a collective identity? What is their age group, ethnicity?

Income and Wealth is earnings and savings data an important consideration which is also one of the important factors. What is their average income and if they have any dependencies, etc.

Culture and Heritage refers to the History of the area, local, cultural and traditional values, carrying out the study weather the place have any cultural opportunities for further development.

Site Location is the data for footprint and the local area and this study would give the data for the site characteristics from a development perspective and the neighborhood related economic opportunities and constraints.

Resources are the Capital resources and Revenue resources to deliver project and the long-term interventions. Here, we have to figure out the relevant sources from which they would come.

Market Potential is the value-added analysis which is important to figure out how will you deliver a social and economic uplift. Urban design needs to work for people if it is to prove successful and sustainable. A sound, socioeconomic base for all Urban Design proposals is essential if these subject objectives are to be met.

Along with population, cities are also growing diverse with different ethnicities, cultural backgrounds, interests and social statuses. That being said, cities might face a growing economic inequality and spatial segregation. Urban Designers and Planners play an important role to foster the social cohesion taking into consideration the sustainable Urban Development. Although they cannot solve the entire social and economic problems, as designers they can plan for well-connected urban patterns and functioning public spaces that facilitate interaction and social mixing. This is where the Economic Assessment toolkit comes into picture which helps in collecting the data for designing the “user friendly cities” and “cities for people”.

One of the best examples Danny showed us was The Happy City Experiment, by Charles Montgomery. He walked us through the Ted Talk of the Happy City Experiment which is a great example and case study for every designer. Charles Montgomery explains what happens when you populate an abandoned space in New York City with Urban Social Experiments. This is a very easy and an interesting social experiment which yields an amazing and inspiring outcome with respect to the Urban Space, the city dwellers and their attitude towards social connections, values and each other. The inclusion of such features, toolkits and strategies on urban decision making can definitely add up to the design solutions that potentially foster the emergence of a good and Sustainable Urban Design Project.

Link for the Ted Talk:



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School of Architecture
Planning and Landscape
Newcastle upon Tyne
Tyne and Wear, NE1 7RU

Telephone: 0191 208 6509