11.337J | Spring 2009 | Graduate

Urban Design Policy and Action


Each student is expected to critically analyze and come prepared to discuss the readings assigned for the lectures specified below.

1 No readings assigned for the first session. In what ways does urban design get done by democratic government, why, and what are the impacts of these policy tools on the city?

Reading 1: policy as tools of governance

Salamon, Lester. “The New Governance and the Tools of Public Action: An Introduction.” Chapter 1 in The Tools of Government: A Guide to the New Governance. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2002. ISBN: 9780195136654.

A massive proliferation has occurred in the tools of public action—the instruments used to address public problems. Government activity embraces a dizzying array of loans, loan guarantees, grants, contracts, social regulation, economic regulation, insurance, tax expenditures, vouchers, and more. Many of these tools are highly indirect and rely heavily on a wide assortment of third parties—commercial banks, private hospitals, social service agencies, industrial corporations, universities, day care centers, other levels of government, financiers, and construction firms—to deliver publicly financed services and pursue publicly authorized purposes.

The book suggests a new approach to public problem solving called the “new governance” and has two defining features. The first, signified by the terms governance rather than government, is an emphasis on what is perhaps the central reality of public problem solving for the foreseeable future—namely, its collaborative nature, its reliance on a wide array of third parties in addition to government to address public problems and pursue public purposes. Such an approach is necessary because disagreements exist about the proper ends of public action, and because government increasingly lacks the authority to enforce its will on other crucial actors without giving them a meaningful seat at the table. The second feature, signified by the use of the term “new”, is a recognition that these collaborative approaches, while hardly novel, must now be approached in a new, more coherent way, on that explicitly acknowledges the significant challenges that they pose as well as the important opportunities they create.

Reading 2: political-economy of urban design

Cuthbert, Alexander. “Theory,” and “Politics.” Chapters 1 and 4 in The Form of Cities: Political Economy and Urban Design. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2006. ISBN: 9781405116404.

Chapter 1 gives an overview of mainstream urban design theory, traces where political economy and critical theory have been most active in offering a differing viewpoint, and suggests how we should consolidate a framework from spatial political economy that can use various components derived from the mainstream position and offer it a coherence it lacks.

Chapter 4 discusses the relationship between politics and ideology since urban politics is influential at all levels of engagement in design. The built environment is the theater where power expresses itself through the medium of political ideologies that configure, and are embedded within spatial configurations, architectonic space, and the expression of symbolic capital. Together, the two chapters provide an overview of the political economy of urban design: definitions and theories, spatial political economy and urban design, politics and ideology, power-rights and laws, law as ideology, politics and urban planning, and the urban design of the public realm.


Reading 1: ideology of urban design policy

Schuman, Tony, and Elliott Sclar. “The Impact of Ideology on American Town Planning: From the Garden City to Battery Park City.” Chapter 18 in Planning the Twentieth-Century American City. Edited by Mary Corbin Sies and Christopher Silver. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996. ISBN: 9780801851643.

The authors maintain that Americans are losing two important social battles—for the quality of everyday life and for economic prosperity—because of their long-term reluctance to intervene in market operations. The authors analyze the key assumptions underlying the historic debates concerning planning and housing that have occurred over the course of the twentieth century. They focus in particular on the question of what the public role should be in undertaking urban design, and they investigate that question by comparing the development of two new planned communities in New York City—Roosevelt Island and Battery Park City. Roosevelt Island was a publicly funded project with a mandated heterogeneous community of residents while Battery Park City was originally a public project later privatized and transformed into an exclusive upper-income enclave. The authors claim that Americans must realize that the ideology of privatism has long-term negative social consequences.

Reading 2: urban design as intersection of public policy, private development, and social reform

Hise, Greg. “Building a City Where a City Belongs.” Chapter 6 in Magnetic Los Angeles: Planning the Twentieth-Century Metropolis. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999. ISBN: 9780801862557.

The case study of Panorama City, a typical Los Angeles suburb, illustrates the degree to which private builders’ interests and vision intersected with those of industrialists, planners, and home buyers and how these agents collectively shaped the postwar metropolitan landscape. For example, Panorama City epitomized the convergence of a planning ideal, the decentralized regional city, with the production emphasis and community-building expertise of a corporation like Kaiser Homes. More precisely, these large-scale post-World-War-II urban design projects can be best understood as amalgams, the unanticipated blending of environmental and social reform often identified with Progressives and progressive housing reformers, the theory and plans of decentrists and pragmatists, and the technicians’ and productionists’ faith in science, industrial management, and economies of scale.

Reading 3: political culture and conflicting interests in the design of a ‘Normalizing’ city

Gottdiener, Mark, Claudia Collins, and David Dickens. “Local Politics and Community Interests.” Chapter 8 in Las Vegas: The Social Production of an All-American City. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2000. ISBN: 9781577181378.

The chapter focuses on the unusual nature of local politics and the impact of a variety of community concerns such as growth, inequality, education, and the environment on the local political agenda. It is the change in this agenda that best characterizes the process of ’normalization’ in Las Vegas. The major corporate casino interests compete fiercely among themselves for their share of Las Vegas’s multi-billion dollar gambling/tourism profits. Furthermore, as the metropolitan region has increased in population and matured as a place of permanent residence, a number of other local constituencies, both business and community-oriented, together constitute an increasingly complex political environment in the Las Vegas Valley. The chapter provides an examination of this new political scene as further evidence of the ’normalization’ process in Las Vegas. This ’normalization’ process, while producing a new political culture that plays off residents against business needs, also contains contradictory tendencies produced by the organization of separate political interests, conflicts over resources, factions of capital, fragmentation of social bases and political jurisdictions, and a fundamental clash between the increasing, multi-dimensional needs of a local residents and a public ideology that limits local government to a weak role.

Reading 1: municipal control of land use

Frug, Gerald. “City Land Use.” Chapter 7 in City Making: Building Communities Without Building Walls. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001. ISBN: 9780691007427.

City control over land use has been exercised principally through cities’ zoning power and through a combination of other city powers, such as condemnation, financial incentives, and municipal borrowing, mobilized to promote urban redevelopment. The chapter focuses on specific aspects of land use and urban design control such as zoning, redevelopment, and the New Urbanism, as well as prospects for change in regulations as they impact women, residents of the inner suburbs, the elderly, and African Americans. The author suggests how cities can be organized to take advantage of their capacity to foster community building by focusing on the transformation of cities’ land use, zoning, and redevelopment policies.

Reading 2: cities versus states in land use and development

Frug, Gerald, and David Barron. “Land Use and Development.” Chapter 5 in City Bound: How States Stifle Urban Innovation. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2008. ISBN: 9780801445149.

The chapter discusses city power to control the built environment-the physical aspects of a city’s growth and development. Cities do not make decisions about the built environment in a transparent way. Land use authority is embedded in a maddeningly complex array of statutes, judicial decisions, ownership structures, and public authorities. This complexity makes a city’s land use policy obscure to even to the most interested of observers. Yet, land use powers affect the look of a city in a way that no other city powers can. The chapter turns first to the basic rules governing city power over land use: the general power to zone and plan, the extent to which the state has excluded a portion of the city from city control, and the city’s ability to use innovative fiscal tools to promote its land use policy. The chapter then examines a city’s ability to provide affordable housing. Both of these aspects of a city’s power over land use are important no matter which vision of the future it adopts. As the chapter demonstrates, cities do have considerable power over land use. But the way that power is exercised is significantly influenced by the details of state law.

Reading 1: types of development regulations

Barnett, Jonathan. “Shaping Cities Through Development Regulations.” Chapter 13 in Redesigning Cities: Principles, Practice, Implementation. Washington, DC: American Planning Association Planners Press, 2008. ISBN: 9781884829703.

Development regulations are among the most powerful forces shaping the built environment. Almost every city, county, and town in the United States has a code that separates manufacturing, commercial, and residential zones. These zoning codes also contain height and setback requirements that have a decisive effect on the placement and appearance of individual buildings. Subdivision codes govern the layout of streets and lots on greenfield sites. Many other laws affect development in specific locations. Landmark buildings and historic districts are protected. The environmental impact of large federally funded projects must be assessed before they go forward, and some states have comparable requirements. Other federal laws specify what can be built in floodplains and how to build there, and what develops in a coastal zone is subject to review. More indirect, but still decisive requirements come from federal laws regulating air and water pollution, and from state growth management legislation. What is being built today is very much the product of the limits and instructions written into codes. If we don’t like what is happening, we need to adjust the regulations.

Reading 2: urban design as spatial policy

Hall, Tony. “Urban Design as Spatial Policy,” and “Guides, Briefs, and Master Plans.” Chapters 2 and 3 in Turning a Town Around: A Proactive Approach to Urban Design. Oxford, United Kingdom: Blackwell Publishing, 2008. ISBN: 9781405170239.

Today’s trend toward the renewal of cities, sociable places, higher standards of architecture and sustainable city center living is the business of urban design. In the United Kingdom, effective urban design is now at the forefront of government policy. However, even when the goals are clear, how do you make a start? If you are a planner, a city council member, or a developer, what do you have to do? How do you handle design within the planning process and ensure it is connected to other aspects of policy? The first part of the book deals with the nature of the recommended proactive approach. The second chapter in this part describes how urban design can, and should, be integrated with broader spatial policy. The preparation of physically prescriptive design guides, briefs, and master plans is dealt with in the third chapter.

Reading 1: design and implementation of policies for special districts

Lang, Jon. “Piece-By-Piece Urban Design.” Chapter 9 in Urban Design: A Typology of Procedures and Products. Oxford, United Kingdom: Architectural Press, 2005. ISBN: 9780750666282.

Urban design is fundamentally concerned with the design of the three-dimensional qualities of the public realm of human settlements, taking into consideration the fourth dimension-time. Time is both a factor in the way an urban design is experienced and in its relationship to its cultural context at different moments in its history. “Piece-by-piece urban design” does not involve specific physical design projects but rather the design of policies that promote the development of certain building and urban types within specific precincts of a city. Piece-by-piece urban design involves the use of zoning and other planning instruments to achieve urban outcomes without using site-specific design guidelines or directives. The procedures employed are described in Chapter 9, along with the case studies of the theater and other districts, New York (1967-74), Central Bellevue, Washington: a new suburban downtown (1980-present), and Center City District, Philadelphia: a business improvement district (1990-1995).

Reading 2: public policy, private developers, and household preferences in neighborhood design

Levine, Jonathan. “Developers, Planners, and Neighborhood Supply,” and “The Demand for Transportation and Land-Use Innovation.” Chapters 7 and 8 in Zoned Out: Regulation, Markets, and Choices in Transportation and Metropolitan Land-use. Washington, DC: Resources for the Future, 2005. ISBN: 9781933115146.

Chapters 7 and 8 report on empirical investigations into issues and outcomes on land use policies and markets from the supply side and the demand side, respectively, and find strong and consistent effects. Land developers would be expected to seek to develop more compactly than regulations allow. Metropolitan areas whose neighborhood alternatives include transit- and pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods should support a closer match between households’ transportation and land-use preferences and actual neighborhood choices than their more uniformly auto-oriented counterparts. States whose planning regimes limit municipalities’ prerogative to exclude denser housing forms ought to witness accelerated growth in these forms. Chapter 7 describes developers’ perceptions of alternative development, the Pennsylvania-New Jersey experiment in zoning, case studies of developer-planner interaction, and most significantly, the consequences of municipal land-use control on neighborhood design. Chapter 8 focuses on a comparative Atlanta-Boston study of neighborhood types and household choices to illustrate the preference-choice divide in neighborhood design.

Reading 1: effective urban polices in urban transformation

Nello, Oriol. “Urban Dynamics, Public Policies, and Governance in the Metropolitan Region of Barcelona.” Chapter 2 in Transforming Barcelona. Edited by Tim Marshall. London, United Kingdom: Routledge, 2004. ISBN: 9780415288415.

In the last quarter of the twentieth century, Barcelona has undergone a radical transformation: its economic base, its social structure, the population’s habits, its physical structure and even its image have experienced accelerated changes that have been decisive and generally positive. Urban policies have had a significant role in this evolution, whose results have been spectacular enough to attract international attention. The purpose of this chapter is to provide some data and observations on the nature of these changes and their relationship to the public policies applied in the city.

Reading 2: multipronged approach to transformational urban design

Esteban, Juli. “The Planning Project: Bringing Value to the Periphery, Recovering the Centre. Chapter 7 in Transforming Barcelona. Edited by Tim Marshall. London, United Kingdom: Routledge, 2004. ISBN: 9780415288415.

The subject of this chapter is the planning effort that was and continues to be behind the urban transformation of Barcelona. This planning project has taken the form of a series of ideas and partial projects, with the participation of various actors and with different contextual references and specific goals. The chapter deals with various initiatives and documents that make up this sequence of projects, including the 1976 General Metropolitan Plan as an instrument for urban change, projects for public space: squares, parks, and improvements of some streets, projects for the Olympic games, creation of metropolitan parks, construction of road links, restoration and improvement of buildings, and the recycling of urban space through urban transformation projects since 1992.

Reading 1: theory and practice of form-based codes

Parolek, Daniel, Karen Parolek, and Paul Crawford. “Introduction,” and “Components.” Chapters 1 and 2 in Form-Based Codes: A Guide for Planners, Urban Designers, Municipalities, and Developers. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, 2008. ISBN: 9780470049853.

A form-based code (FBC) is a method of regulating development to achieve a specific urban form. Form-based codes create a predictable public realm primarily by controlling physical form, with a lesser focus on land use, through city or county regulations. Based on their study of a wide variety of FBCs and related practices, as well as on personal experience implementing and administering them, the authors assess and describe what has happened to date while beginning to establish a common set of principles and standards for moving the practice of Form-Based Coding forward. The discuss the components of FBCs and the process by which they are created, and they present ten diverse case studies that represent the most advanced applications of this tool. The intention is for readers to use this book as a resources as they participate in the evolution of the practice and application of Form-Based Codes. The introduction describes why form-based codes can be highly effective, a background and brief history of zoning, and the new approach embodied by FBCs. The chapter entitled “Components” describes the regulating plan, public space standards, building form standards, frontage type standards, block standards, building types standards, architectural standards, and code administration. Form-based codes are at the cutting edge of describing the standards of urban design in the most clear and cohesive manner.

Reading 1: an integrated approach to design, policy, and implementation

Moule and Polyzoides Architects and Urbanists. Uptown Whittier Specific Plan. Whittier, CA: City of Whittier, 2008.

The Uptown Whittier Specific Plan was designed by one of the leading urban design firms in the United States, Moule & Polyzoides, and officially and legally adopted by the City of Whittier, California on November 18, 2008. The Plan is a pioneering effort in the southern California region to integrate multiple urban design objectives—improve the overall quality of design and development, conduct a transparent and public design process, generate economic development through investments in retail and diverse types of real estate development, leverage parking as a resource for a pedestrian-friendly district, estimate costs, funding, and phasing of implementation, and establish a long-term framework for Uptown through a regulating plan, development code, and design guidelines. The plan covers an area of approximately 185 acres and 35 city blocks, and was developed through a complex design and implementation process of 2-1/2 years.

Reading 1: learning from best practices

Punter, John. “Developing Urban Design as Public Policy: Best Practice Principles for Design Review and Development Management.” Journal of Urban Design 12 (2007): 167-202.

The paper develops and discusses some 12 principles for best practice design review internationally. It seeks to embed these principles in plan making, design policy and guideline formulation and development control in planning systems at various stages of development. The principles are derived from critiques of review practices in the USA and Western Europe in both regulatory and discretionary planning systems. The principles are grouped under four headings: community vision, integration of planning and zoning, substantive urban design principles, and due process in review. Each principle is discussed separately with examples of best practice and identification of common problems and solutions. Particular attention is paid to the incorporation of sustainable development perspectives, and the need to construct substantive and place-responsive design principles and forms. A conclusion discusses the ambition of these principles, their implementation in difficult economic and political contexts, and the tensions between design and diversity.

Reading 2: urban design paradigms and policy

Garde, Ajay. “Innovations in Urban Design and Urban Form: The Making of Paradigms and the Implications for Public Policy.” Journal of Planning Education and Research 28 (2008): 61-72.

How might innovations in urban design influence urban form? This paper focuses on two types of innovations—degenerative variations (e.g. gated communities, invented public spaces, suburban shopping malls, Edge cities) and integrative paradigms (e.g. New Urbanism, Neighborhood Unit, Garden City)—to examine their impact on urban form and to discuss the implications for public policy. The paper begins with a presentation of how degenerative variations collective generate an undesirable urban form. The paper then illustrates how integrative paradigms are conceived as a response to the problems of development of a particular period and the transformation of urban form. The paradigms are expected to nurture a collective vision and have a positive impact on urban form; however, they are undermined by the realities of development. The paper concludes with a discussion of the policy implications of innovations in urban design.
11 No readings assigned for the last session. What is/should be the relationship between public policy, urban design, and implementation?

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2009