Why Design (still) Matters!

San Diego, Urban Design

I have running dialog (troll) with a pessimistic friend about the value of our jobs and which of us is cumbersome to this world (yes, I’m listening to Rock Hits ’96 on iTunes… it’s Friday afternoon). And, I had been on the losing end of the troll on the value of urban design in the midst of our coastal cities long-standing housing crisis. His contemporary point is that designing for highest and best use raises existing land values and because everything is already too expensive good design is framed today as an agent of gentrification, and something to avoid.

Times have changed. My past assumptions are regularly challenged in this early 21-century new socio-political context. And, in my circle (social class) of friends and colleagues, I see increasing anxiety as we feel left behind economically and ‘good design’ is only valued by the wealthy to create investor opportunities. See, I was losing!

Searching, I found this terrific article on What makes a beautiful place, by Tristan Cleveland, a researcher at Happy City. And his point on the value of beauty beautifully translated to my points on the value of urban design, which I’ve restated from Mr. Cleveland’s brilliant prose with the following turn:

At the human scale: Design makes a difference in our lives by helping us feel safe and comfortable while walking and socializing in our neighborhoods, which helps us feel happier and experience a deeper sense of belonging to places and people.

And,

At the city scale: Design makes a difference in enabling cities to more easily attract new residents and businesses with interesting and inviting public streets, parks, and civic spaces. Well-designed places are a practical and essential way to bring vitality and dignity to city living.

I think I’m winning… what do you think?

3 thoughts on “Why Design (still) Matters!

  1. I’ll take urban design over traffic engineering any day. Too long have Euclidean Zones (modern planners) and Speed Demons (modern traffic engineers) diced up and spread out our communities into the unrecognizable banal placeless “developments” that have more invested in the name branding that will go on the entry monument than the framing of gathering, socializing, worshipping, dancing, functioning spaces and places.

    They don’t even recognize the extent of their damage and many uncritically follow in ruinous methods misdirected and grasping for relevance, uncertain who to turn to. All they have are their standards (borrowed from the neighboring city) and unchecked, incomplete calculations (purchased for liability protection). “Industry experts” deserve to be held to a higher, verifiable, replicable standard operandi.

    Human-scaled design with success shared by a connected community of carried takes and collaborative spaces within authentic neighborhoods can shoulder the aspirational challenges of inclusivity and fiscal sustainability while building compact ecologically beneficial scales.

  2. I wish I could edit, the closing got auto-incorrected. Should read:

    Human-scaled design with success shared by a connected community of calm streets and collaborative spaces within authentic neighborhoods can shoulder the aspirational challenges of inclusivity and fiscal sustainability while building compact ecologically beneficial scales.

    Thanks for championing the good cause of designing for people and place.

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