Dynamic Urban Design: A Handbook for Creating Sustainable Communities Worldwide

Article excerpt

by Michael A. Von Hansen, ([C] 2013, iUniverse, 505 pages)

IT IS ALL IN THE TITLE: Dynamic Urban Design. Author Michael A. Von Hausen defines urban design as "the art and science of making places for people." So what makes urban design dynamic? The author believes that it is I taking urban design to a more comprehensive level, essentially uniting urban design and sustainability "in a practical, measured way" and doing it on a global basis.

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Von Hausen begins by presenting his case for more sustainable urban design, citing for support problems such as poor air quality in many of the world's largest cities, an increasing world population, increases in parking areas and roads at the expense of decreased agricultural acreage, debilitating traffic congestion, loss of tree cover and green areas, elevating health problems and increased use of personal automobiles. His proclaimed mission is "to bring sustainable urban form to people around the world."

The author believes that urban planners worldwide, empowered by significant government policy changes, are influencing ongoing shifts to more sustainable new communities. The result, he says, will be less waste, more jobs closer to home, more efficient buildings, and a better quality of life. He believes that a paradigm shift in sociopolitical forces, economic accountability and environmental responsibility are taking place now, and they are driving the new transformation in urban form and sustainable development worldwide. The shift, he says, is to include more compact, mixed-use communities with more energy-efficient buildings designed for that community.

Von Hausen presents his Dynamic Urban Design Model early in the book. It is a three-part model, with each part having three sub-parts:

* Framework, consisting of Place, Process and Plans;

* Components, consisting of Social, Ecological and Economic; and

* Measurements, consisting of Elements, Principles and Targets.

He argues for the urban design process to include not only the designer, but also the architects, landscape architects, planners, engineers, developers and economists in the design process from start to finish. The result, he writes, would be a more sustainable design. Without that interaction, the design process fails to properly address social, cultural, economic and diversity issues.

The book has four component parts. Part 1 provides a history of urban design and the framework and elements of sustainable community development. Part 2 discusses the comprehensive plan-making processes; essentially it is an extensive checklist of tasks that urban designers typically go through in their design processes. In Part 3 the author discusses the process of urban design evaluation, pointing out the application of some of those elements in notable suburban development processes. Part 4 of the book characterizes the pitfalls of the implementation of urban design and details the conditions that are required to include sustainability in urban designs.

Von Hausen provides a history of the evolution of the urban design process, beginning with early cities like ancient Rome and Mexico City. He explains the design components and logic that made those cities great, and even argues that the sustainable footprint of each is superior to that of many modern cities because each was based on walking distances, thus negating at least some of the requirement for personal automobiles, an element he strives to minimize in his urban design plans.

Von Hausen defines the four conceptual models of urban design (Organic, Cosmic, Practical and Car-oriented) and then incorporates illustrations of each, weighing in on their strengths and weaknesses. Nice, France, The Chicago Plan, L'Enfant's plan of Washington, D.C., and Frank Lloyd Wright's conceptual Broadacre City are among the many he analyzes.

In a section on "The Neighborhood Unit," the author examines how the invention of the automobile was a dominant factor in the development of neighborhoods, and how it solved what at that time was becoming a significant waste problem since horses were the primary unit of transportation. …