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Examining the evidence

Designing the City:Towards a More Sustainable Urban Form By Hildebrand Frey.E & FN Spon,1999.148pp.

In Designing the City Hildebrand Frey poses and then attempts to answer the vexingly simple question:what urban form would make cities more sustainable? In addition,he searches out a definition ofsustainability and the role ofurban design in achieving it.

The origins ofurban design are traced to the schism between town planning and architecture that has occurred in both education and practice.The destructive effect ofthis separation can be seen in the depressing ruin ofmany UK cities.

Frey analyses the various definitions of urban design as it is currently practised in UK ,and goes on to suggest a much broader and clearer definition ofthe areas in which urban design should be involved.While acknowledging its importance in the smallscale design ofthe public realm,Frey calls for its much enlarged role at city district and regional level.He sees it as a discipline that informs decision-making at all scales regarding the urban environment,and central to thinking about the sustainable city.

Frey provides a framework ofsix points for assessing the quality ofthe 'good city' based on Maslow's 1954 hierarchy ofhuman needs.In this framework,a good city is one that provides for the physical needs ofits citizens;provides safety and security;is conducive to a social environment;has an appropriate image,a good reputation and prestige;provides opportunity for creativity and for citizens to shape their personal space;and is aesthetically pleasing,a place of culture and a work ofart.

Frey goes on to analyse a range of prototypical urban forms for a sustainable city - core,star,satellite,galaxy and linear -and concludes that a loose informal 'Net City'offers the best balance ofadvantages in terms ofthe criteria for a good city and a sustainable one.It is at this point that the book becomes slightly disappointing,with a lack ofbasic data and research to fully support the analysis - a lack that the author acknowledges.

In part two ofthe book Frey applies the theoretical models from the first part to a reading ofGlasgow,and its possible development into a more sustainable city.

As Frey points out,Glasgow is typical of many post-industrial cities ravaged by the forces ofglobal economic change,the effects ofwar,and the wanton destruction caused by much ofthe planning and architecture ofthis century.

This book is both an inspiration and a cautionary tale.It is inspirational in that it is clear in its thinking and free from academic obscurity.It advocates much that should be common sense in an area where the debate is often neither commonly understood nor sensible.

It is cautionary in that it pinpoints the amount ofstructured research required before we can create more sustainable cities and societies.In the absence ofsuch data we are left with planning based on intuition, political rhetoric and architectural and urban design gestures.We must be careful not to begin yet another round ofbuilding based on over-optimistic slogans ('mixed use'and 'sustainability'this time) that are not supported by evidence and research.

Steven Smith is director ofurban and information projects at Tery Farell & Partners

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