Urban Design Principles

Planning to effectively meet the conditions and realities of a Post Carbon, Climate Responsible world will require a shift in our current understanding of what constitutes good urban design and planning. Many of the practices that we now take for granted, such as planning cities around automobile transportation, and zoning for single uses, will no longer be economically, environmentally, or culturally viable. To address the changes in urban design and planning, we are putting forward the following principles for resilient urban planning and design in a post-carbon, climate-responsive building environment.

1. Density, Diversity and Mix

Resilient Cities and neighbourhoods will need to embrace density, diversity and mix of uses, users, building types, and public spaces.

Creating resiliency and reducing the carbon footprint of urban development requires us to maximize the active use of space and land. A single use low density residential neighbourhood or suburban business parks, are typically underutilized during long periods of time. A vibrant and sufficiently densely populated urban environment, by contrast, is well used round-the-clock, all days of the week, and during all seasons. This results from a closely knit mix of uses (e.g. offices, residences, coffee shops etc.), with sufficient density, and which are accessible to a diversity of users (e.g. children, youth, seniors, high-income, low-income,etc.). Dense mixed use neighbourhoods also allow for the effective functioning of all types of business, social and cultural activities with very low inputs of energy for transportation and logistics, thus increasing the resilience of these neighbourhoods.


2. Pedestrians First

Resilient cities and neighbourhoods will prioritize walking as the preferred mode of travel, and as a defining component of a healthy quality of life.

Reducing car-dependency is a key objective and imperative. Luckily, the alternative modes of transportation – namely walking, cycling, and transit – result in more sustainable urban environments, and in an improved quality of life. It are the cities and neighbourhoods that have prioritized walking, that have created desirable locations to live, work, play, and invest in. (The term pedestrian, as used in these principles, includes persons with disabilities.) 

3. Transit Supportive

Resilient cities and neighbourhoods will develop in a way that is transit supportive.

After walking and cycling, transit is the most sustainable mode of transportation. Resilient cities will need to re-orient their way of thinking, by shifting from car oriented urban patterns (e.g. cul-de-sacs and expressways) to transit oriented urban patterns and developments (e.g. mobility hubs, intensified corridors, and TODs). Not only will pedestrian, and mass transportation friendly planning increase the quality of life of a cities, as fuel prices rise after Peak Oil, only cities that are viable without heavy dependence on the car will have the best chances of economic and social success.


4. Place-Making

Resilient cities and neighbourhoods will focus energy and resources on conserving, enhancing, and creating strong, vibrant places, which are a significant component of the neighbourhood’s structure and of the community’s identity.

All successful cities and successful neighbourhoods include vibrant places, with a strong sense of identity, which are integral to community life and the public realm: parks, plazas, courtyards, civic buildings, public streets, etc.

A resilient post-carbon community, which reorients city-life to the pedestrian scale (a 500 m radius), must focus its efforts to creating a number of local destinations, which attract a critical-mass of users and activities. Sprawl, for example, has very little place-making. A traditional village or an urban downtown, by contrast, have innumerable nocks and crannies, grand public spaces, gorgeous streetscapes, which make them desirable, successful, and sustainable.

Heritage resources – buildings, structures, and landscapes – represents a significant opportunity for place-making (i.e. through their cultural significance and identity), as well as a significant environmental investment (i.e. through their embedded energy) that should be conserved and leveraged.


5. Complete Communities

Resilient neighbourhoods will provide the needs of daily living, within walking distance (a 500 m radius).

Resilient communities, will reduce their carbon footprint by ensuring people opt to walk or cycle, instead of using a car. To achieve this, destinations must be accessible within a pleasant walking distance – people should be able and willing to walk from home to work, to school, to shop, to recreate, and to engage the activities of their everyday life. Longer distances should be achievable through transit.

Connectivity is central to making an area pedestrian oriented. Streets and pedestrian walkways must be enjoyable to walk, must link key destinations, and must operate at a fine scale. Communities must also be compact and concentrate a critical-mass of people and activities to support walking, and to support animated and vibrant place-making.


6. Integrated Natural Systems

Resilient cities and neighbourhoods will conserve and enhance the health of natural systems (including climate) and areas of environmental significance, and manage the impacts of climate change.

Our individual and collective health is intricately tied to the health of air, water, land, and climate. How we choose to live, how we choose to move around, how we develop land, all have an impact on the quality of the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the weather we experience. Cities and neighbourhoods need to develop in a way that conserves and enhances the quality of the water flow and supply, likewise for the quality of air and land. Climate is, increasingly, a key driver to transforming our development patterns and living choices. Action on this front is imperative.

The health and integrity of wildlife and vegetation are also a priority. Protecting existing biodiversity, indigenous or endangered species, wetlands, the tree canopy, connectivity, are all a necessary aspect of securing healthy natural systems.


7. Integrated Technical and Industrial Systems

Resilient Cities and neighbourhoods will enhance the effectiveness, efficiency and safety of their technical and industrial systems and processes, including their manufacturing, transportation, communications and construction infrastructure and systems to increase their energy efficiency, and reduce their environmental footprint.

The economic health and vitality of cities is inextricably bound up with the effectiveness, efficiency and safety of its technical and industrial systems and processes. The importance of reducing negative environmental impacts of economic activities and processes, as well as reducing their dependence on fossil fuels will require us to develop more integrated and more highly efficient industrial processes and technical systems that ensure a maximum of efficiency in the use of both materials and energy resources, as well as the elimination of all wasteful and potentially harmful bi-products.

Technical and industrial uses need to be integrated into the city in ways that allow them to make the most efficient and synergistic connections and associations with similar and complementary uses that will design for waste products from one industry or technical process (such as heat energy) to be effectively used as a beneficial input in another industry or technical process, thus increasing the overall efficiency of the city as a system, while reducing the creation of harmful and/or wasteful bi-products.

The health and integrity of the neighbourhoods that these technical and industrial systems are part of is also a priority for the Resilient City. The strategic integration of industrial and technical systems into mixed use neighbourhoods should be planned so as to produce not only better economic performance, but also to create easily accessible and safe working environments, healthy surrounding neighbourhoods, and no negative impacts on the natural environment.


8. Local Sources

Resilient regions, cities, and neighbourhoods will grow and produce the resources they need, in close proximity (200 kilometre radius).

The environmental cost of the movement of goods and energy increases every day, and the potential for price increases in transportation fuels as a result of Peak Oil increase the future costs of non-local sources. Thus, populations must seek to satisfy their consumption needs from local and regional sources. The ‘100-mile diet’ and local-food movement has increased awareness of the importance of consuming local products, to decreasing our carbon footprint. The same principle that applies to food, also applies to the manufacture of goods, the production of energy (e.g. district energy, district heating), recreation needs (i.e. 100-mile tourism), waste disposal, water management, and any other resources which we consume.


9. Engaged Communities

The development of resilient cities and neighbourhoods will require the active participation of community members, at all scales.

From the seemingly trivial activities of everyday life (e.g. using a plastic bag) to the overtly transformational (e.g. growing the city), citizens have a role to play and a responsibility. It is only through the sum total of individual choices, of individual actions, that change will come about.

Residents and stakeholders must be part of planning and designing their cities and their communities. They must also be part of delivering a new vision: by choosing to walk, by engaging each other, by generating awareness, and by demanding higher standards.


10.Redundant and Durable Life Safety and Critical Infrastructure Systems

Resilient Cities and neighbourhoods will plan and design for redundancy and durability of their life safety and critical infrastructure systems. Planning and design of these systems will aim for levels of redundancy and durability that are commensurate with the increasing environmental, social, and economic stresses associated with the impacts of climate change and peak oil.

The physical, social and economic health of the Resilient City and its citizens is directly connected to the city’s ability to maintain the effective functioning of its key life safety and critical infrastructure systems – especially during episodes of intense environmental stress (such as during severe storms, floods, or other weather related events). Key infrastructure systems such as drinking water supply, electrical power, and residential heating in winter, and key life safety systems, such as police, fire, and emergency response services and their support systems, must be planned and designed for a level of redundancy and durability that will allow them to be durable enough to resist present and future environmental stresses, as well as to have enough redundancy built into their design to allow the system as a whole to remain sufficiently functional and intact that if one or more constituant parts of the system is compromised, the system as a whole will nevertheless remain operational and able to provide the necessary outputs or services.


11. Resilient Operations

Resilient cities and neighbourhoods will develop building types and urban forms with reduced servicing costs, and reduced environmental footprints.

Urban sprawl is extremely expensive to service and maintain – the amount of land, roads, pipes, and infrastructure required per capita is disproportionately large. A compact, mixed-use urban environment, by contrast, is far more efficient in its demand for municipal services and infrastructure requirements. Resilient cities will not subsidize inefficient forms of development (e.g. building roads and assuming operating costs) and instead prioritize city patterns and built forms that have a reduced footprint on the environment and a reduced burden on municipal resources (e.g. directing growth to where services exist: infill).