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An A-Z of Urban Design concepts
(and their misuse) Part 5

I is for Integration

The word “integration” is strewn liberally throughout our planning schemes.
ResCode calls for development to be integrated with the street. (See “Frontages (residential)”, in the August 2012 Planning News.)
State policy exhorts us to integrate land use planning, urban design and transport planning, and encourages us to design activity centres that integrate housing, employment, shopping, recreation and community services. ResCode wants schools integrated with the neighbourhood and community facilities; the built environment to provide an integrated layout, built form and urban landscape; and subdivision to integrate with the surrounding urban environment.

What does all this mean?

In urban design terms, integration requires more than just collocation. It entails a positive relationship forged by sharing the same public realm, or at least direct visual and physical links through an inviting environment. Examples include development that fronts the street leading to a station, or lines its forecourt. Not the backs of buildings on the other side of the station car park.

Integration means homes and offices above shops, or on secondary streets that lead directly to the mainstreet. Not housing estates or business parks that adjoin centres but have independent street networks which rarely connect.

Integrated schools are those bounded by residential or activity centre streets, not back fences. Integrated subdivisions have streets that provide relatively direct and legible routes from every home to key destinations such as schools, shops, parks and public transport. Not those which barricade residents from their activity centres through traffic-dominated ring roads.

In essence, integration means being part of the same place, not just close by.

J is for Jane Jacobs

(I know, I know. She wasn’t a concept. But you try finding an urban design concept beginning with J!)

Jacobs was an American (and later Canadian) writer and activist driven by inner urban issues. She gained prominence with the publication of “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” in 1961, which quickly became a seminal urban design text.

Jacobs fought against the conventional wisdom of mid-twentieth century urban planning, which was focused on creating neatly ordered urban patterns characterised by segregated uses, ‘super-blocks’ and ‘pavilion’ buildings set in open space. She championed traditional urban places that had developed organically, highlighting the value of density in generating vitality and the economic and social importance of diversity. The intricate order of real city neighbourhoods, rather than the simplified, ‘pretended order’ of planned places.

So, what is Jacobs’ legacy in urban design today?

Tellingly, much of the old accepted wisdom has been replaced by the ideas she espoused: mixed-use and mixed communities, higher densities that support convenience, varied building ages, fine-grain street networks, streets in which children can play, clearly-demarcated public and private realms, ‘eyes-on-the-street’, flexible and active-edged open spaces, and so on.

But perhaps Jacobs’ greatest lesson is the importance of careful observation and analysis of the way urban places actually work, rather than focusing on their outward appearance. Before the book has even begun she urges us to “please look closely at real cities. While you are looking, you might as well also listen, linger, and think about what you see.”

Every place is different. And cities continually evolve in response to changing social behaviour, technology, globalisation and so on. So while Jacobs’ principles are enduring, their application must always be tailored to the intricate order of the place, rather than one-size-fits-all design responses.

Next month: K is for Kevin Lynch* and L is for Landmarks.

* K’s tricky too! But this will be the last author, promise ...

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