realms of urban design: mapping sustainability
The traditional thematic realms of urban design, such as liveability, social interaction, and quality of urban life, considered to be closely related to urban form and specifically to public space, have long since been recognised as important, and have given the discipline a certain identity. The book Realms of Urban Design: Mapping Sustainability is certainly rooted in this fundamental urban design thinking, but its main contribution belongs to the second part of the book’s title — discourse on sustainability. Its chapters, considered as a whole, put forward the importance of the discipline and the designerly way of thinking in the context of the discussion about unprecedented environmental transformation.
The eleven chapters of the book represent the major sustainability concerns that the authors have seen as being related to the urban design discipline in their specific professional and environmental contexts. Therefore, the chapters as an entity could be seen as an act of mapping the sustainability issues that are coming “from the front” of urban design research and practice at the universities involved in the project Creating the Network of Knowledge Labs for Sustainable and Resilient Environments (KLABS). They show disciplinary, mostly methodological, concerns with the larger scales in comparison to those of the neighbourhoods and public space that are traditionally connected to urban design; with the collective or common nature of urban space; and with the distinctive, underused spaces coming not only as a legacy of the 20th century, but also as an important by-product of contemporary economic trends. The first four chapters tackle the self-questioning of the disciple of urbanism in the wake of spatial, social, and environmental change at an unprecedented planetary scale. They are assembled around the question of what the sustainability concept means for the discipline and how the discipline should change to become socially relevant in the context of dynamic spatial transformation? The chapters are review contributions to recent theoretical and methodological rethinking of design approaches to the urban condition, with a focus on multi-scale and process-oriented urbanism. The chapters call for an integrated design approach in the sense of finding a theoretical and methodological common ground for separated disciplines of architecture, urban design, and urban planning.
The next two chapters examine what is, in the traditional manner, considered to be the main theoretical and analytical focus and the main creative and practical outcome of urban design — the urban form. How we should understand, analyse, and design the urban form in the context of the contemporary complexities of urbanisation? Two chapters present opposing perspectives of urban form design. One is a morphological approach in which the urban form is seen as a disciplinary tool of conceptualisation and regulation of the city, using sophisticated concepts such as landscape and place, while the other maps the urban form as a resident’s basic expression of the need for shelter, territory of everyday use, and cultural interpretation of home, beyond regulation and urban design. By putting the two approaches side by side, the urban form can be comprehended as the simultaneous materialisation and negotiation of the ground of power intentions and everyday practice.
Chapters 7 and 8 are dedicated to a specific dimension of urban design process — participation. Who can participate in the design of territories and places? Who has the privilege to define who will participate? How should an urbanist manage the many different and contradictory requirements? Ultimately, how can people be encouraged and stimulated to take part in the public urban debate? These are the highly important questions rising in the wake of the urbanism crisis, intensified with the disintegration of the holistic expression of the public interest, characteristic of the modernist period. These chapters present a review of important theoretical considerations and recent experience of multi-voice design methodologies.
The final three chapters deal with the specific typology of urban space - previously developed and then abandoned, forgotten and underused spaces of an economic and technological past. These reminders of past urbanisation are still numerous in the western Balkan countries. What could the role of these places be in the sustainable strategies of urbanisation? How can the approach to the urban regeneration (planning, regulation, and design) of these spaces be conceptualised in order to be in tune with the ecological and social demands of a distressed planet and local historical and cultural values? By explaining the specific theoretical concepts and western Balkan case studies, these chapters tackle the most important issue related to sustainability and the management of urbanisation - the question of spatial resources.