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Urban Design: A Place in Planning

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For some time now urban planning has been the realm of statisticians, lawyers, zoning administrators, and municipal engineers. Recently, however, there has been a pronounced move back to what clearly is the origin of the impulse to plan: the appearance and “legibility” of the physical form of the community. Perhaps it is because many of us are dissatisfied with our physical environment — at least the part that’s been built in the last forty years.

Although convenience stores, strip shopping centers and fast food chains are clearly popular, their looks and the overall character of the town that they create make us yearn for good old Main Street. People are beginning to ask for a less chaotic, and more appealing public environment. There is a growing awareness that the quality of the physical setting is an important element of the quality of life of a place. This is where the planners and the planning commission get involved. …

There are two issues involved when people talk about dissatisfaction with their physical surroundings: the first is legibility or the ability to understand the order of a place and to find your way around in it.

The second is aesthetics, which is the sensory effect of beauty. The old fashioned ideal town, whether it is the elm tree lined Main Street variety or some other model, usually has legibility in spades. This means, among other things, that it can be easily understood, that a mental map of the place can be easily constructed simply by walking or driving around. …

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