Week 3: Tools for Designing Cities

MOOC Summaries - Designing Cities - Tools for Designing Cities Week 3: Tools for Designing Cities

“Infrastructure Investments… Codes and Design Guidelines… Incentives for Better Design… Negotiation for Common Goods…” 


  • 3-1: Introduction
  • 3-2: Investment in Infrastructure
  • 3-3: Codes and Design Guidelines
  • 3-4: Incentives for Better Design
  • 3-5: Negotiation for Common Goods

3-1: Introductory Discussion

  • Tools: forces that can be used to shape i.e. design cities.
  • Nothing happens by accident, there is usually a reason, a basis such as:
    • infrastructure investments;
    • codes and design guidelines (which help shape buildings, and hence cities);
    • incentives (to create better designs);
    • negotiations (as the above might come into conflict with other good reasons).
  • All these are a big reason why different cities are different.
Chop Chop MOOCs’ summary of https://class.coursera.org/designingcities-001/lecture/43

3-2: Investment in Infrastructure

  • One set of tools is infrastructure: the systems that support modern life e.g. power, water, TV, internet, sewage disposal, roads, highways, rail, airports.
  • Key point: citizens expect them to work all the time.
  • Government decisions on infrastructure determine where development takes place.
  • Detailed case study of Tampa Bay in central Florida (and wider), examining future infrastructure needs as the city develops such as transportation, conversation (water, biodiversity, wetlands, agriculture lands), costs, electricity/alternative energy use etc
  • When planning for the future, we have to make estimates but we must remember they are only estimates. And decisions about where investments in infrastructure are made, and how consumption and use are managed will have decisive effects.
  • Next set of tools: codes and design guidelines to manage growth and change.
Chop Chop MOOCs’ summary of https://class.coursera.org/designingcities-001/lecture/41

3-3: Codes and Design Guidelines

  • Next set of tools: codes and design guidelines, which can be very powerful in guiding the design of cities.
  • Development in cities is not just what the market wants (as many like to presume): development decisions are almost always tightly controlled by government regulations.
  • Once public policy implications and development regulations are clear, the right decisions are usually made ( however, these matters are often considered technical, obscure, boring, too detailed).
  • There is usually a long process: approvals, meeting zoning regulations, years for decisions to take effect etc; case studies of various cities/plans in the U.S.
  • Basic question: if development regulations produced precisely the buildings we ask for, we need to make sure the regulations create the buildings we really want.
  • Next topic: incentives for city design:
    • because they complement good codes and design guidelines; and
    • so much of development depends on real estate economics (i.e.financial incentives).
Chop Chop MOOCs’ summary of https://class.coursera.org/designingcities-001/lecture/39

3-4: Incentives for Better Design

  • Next set of tools: Incentives, so that investors and developers can help create better designs in the city.
  • One incentive: relax development regulations or smooth the approval process; sometimes negotiated with the authorities, sometimes determined by what the city’s vision is (e.g. case study of New York City).
  • Another incentive: give developers more floor area if they build amenities that benefit the public (e.g. New York City Special Theatre District).
  • For incentives to be successful, the following are needed:
    • strong real estate market (i.e. enough demand); and
    • strict codes (cities cannot give away so much that there is no room to bargain).
  • Case study: requirement for developers to add electric signs along Broadway (The Great White Way) initially met with resistance but turned out to be extremely profitable for the small cost.
  • Another more traditional incentive: as long as it serves a public purpose, government buys out individual landowners, puts the land together into larger parcels, and makes it available to developers (e.g. in the U.S. after WWII).
  • This was a process of urban renewal; but the practice has become controversial, partly because of the notion of the government taking private land, but also because older buildings are now considered to have value.
  • Other incentives include financing and tax incentives (e.g. Tax Increment Financing, Tax Abatment etc).
  • Next topic: Negotiation, as the whole process above involves agreement between developers, local governments, and often, community organizations.
Chop Chop MOOCs’ summary of https://class.coursera.org/designingcities-001/lecture/47

3-5: Negotiation for Common Goods

  • Negotiation as a set of tools.
  • Urban design is not just visions and plans, it is also about long negotiations between designers and public officials who try to increase the public benefits, and private developers who want to increase their profits.
  • Public benefits can be anything that the public values e.g. parks, plazas, open spaces, walkable and interesting streets, arts and culture facilities, accessible waterfronts, affordable housing, even memorable skylines (hence, if there is public opposition to any project, gaining public consensus becomes important too).
  • Including public benefits makes business sense to the developers sometimes; sometimes, the city may have to help pay for them (e.g. through incentives); sometimes, the taxes and job creation from the project is the public benefit.
  • Negotiation can be a long and real time process.
  • For example, High Line in New York City took over 15 years, and the whole process included proposals, incentives, zoning changes, landscaping, regulations, transfer of rights, and fund raising etc.
  • Another example: Paris in 19th century, where re-design did not cost a single franc eventually; city bought land and buildings along planned grand boulevards, issued bonds, built the boulevards, value of land went up and were sold to developers; took a lot of negotiation but the revenues more than covered the costs
  • Public and private sectors benefitted and the boulevards are now a distinctive character of Paris.
  • Other examples of creating value through urban design: London, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Shanghai, Vancouver etc;
  • Examples of financial value created:
    • New units with a water view sell for 25% more (on the same floor);
    • Parks fetch a 15% premium;
    • Residential floor values increase by about 2.5% per floor;
    • Penthouse on a 30 story building about 75% more valuable than one on the lowest floor.
  • Hence it is perfectly reasonable for cities to ask developers to include public amenities/benefits park – the key is reciprocity.
  • Next module: how to make cities more sustainable.
Chop Chop MOOCs’ summary of https://class.coursera.org/designingcities-001/lecture/55

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