Codes and Design Guidelines

Course video 15 of 52

We have seen that powerful design ideas can have a big influence on cities: towers surrounded by open space, a tree-lined boulevard, houses set amid lawns and gardens, a corridor of denser buildings supported by a transit line. But city design is not an “act of will” by an individual designer. It is a complicated process involving government, private investment, and the public – acting as both consumers, and as concerned local citizens. During this week we will begin discussing some of the important ways to manage the design and development of cities, such as investments in infrastructure, writing codes and design guidelines, and creating financial incentives for better city design, plus negotiation as a means of resolving disagreements – and sometimes outright controversy. Governments and utilities decide where to locate water and sewer pipes, electricity, phone and cable wires, highways and bridges, trains and transit, airports and ports – and all these decisions have a powerful shaping effect on cities. The inclusive name for all these services is infrastructure. We will make a preliminary presentation about them this week, but infrastructure issues will be a recurring theme as our course goes forward. Later on in the course we will also be discussing informal settlements which have grown up without much infrastructure. The issue then becomes how to retrofit these places and give them necessary support. Government regulation is another big shaping force for cities. Most development does not go forward without some kind of official permit. If the public is getting the development it is officially requiring, the question becomes: is this really the best development, and – if not – why not? How to write codes and regulations to produce the most desirable city is another big city design issue which we will begin discussing this week. Real-estate investment is obviously another powerful force shaping cities. Every city design concept raises questions about who benefits and who is going to pay. This week we will begin discussing the financial incentives which can help implement city designs. Finally, people often disagree about what is best for a city. Resolving these differences requires negotiation, sometimes after confrontation. In your own community you may well have seen zoning disputes about a new shopping center or a tall building; controversies about changes in highways or transit routes; or concerns about the preservation of landscape and open space. These are all city design issues, and they demonstrate how important achieving the right kind of city design is for everyone.

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