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Public Places - Urban Spaces: The Dimensions of Urban Design

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By Matthew Carmona, Tim Heath, Taner Oc and Steve Tiesdell. Architectural Press, 2003. 288pp. £24.99

A self-described 'exposition of the different, but intimately related, dimensions of urban design', this book takes a holistic approach in order to be both an overview and general guide. It evolved out of the four authors having worked together on an undergraduate urban planning programme in the 1990s, writes Liz Bailey.

The book's structure is simple and straightforward.

It explains how urban design is both an 'integrative and integrating activity'; looks at changes in the contemporary urban context and constraints on urban design (regulatory, market etc); reviews its various dimensions (morphological, temporal); and discusses the processes by which urban design is implemented.

Public Places - Urban Spaces takes a wide-ranging approach, defining 'urban' as including 'not only the city and the town but also the village and hamlet', and 'design' as being 'as much about effective problem-solving and/or the processes of delivering or organising development'. Its philosophy is touchingly simple: it 'focuses on urban design as the process of making better places for people than would otherwise be produced'.

The book is well organised; its uncomplicated style makes for rapid reading and easy comprehension. The authors have chosen genuinely useful diagrams and thought-provoking illustrations (one cleverly points out the contradictions inherent in building an energy-efficient supermarket that nevertheless requires shoppers to drive there).

Sidebars discuss issues thrown up in urban planning (the pros and cons of cul-de-sacs, for instance) or explain specialist terminology, such as the differences between traditional and Modernist approaches to urban space.

It is not exactly thrilling or ground-breaking stuff, though, and it is not intended to blow you away with revolutionary concepts or eye-catching imagery. It is a thorough and workman-like reference for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of urban design.

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