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Who is an Urban Designer or Urban Practitioner?


Ayadi Mishra, Aishwarya Jadhav, Ajinkya Jamadar, Urban Design Theory, Architects, Architecting, Architecture, Architectural, Design, Planning, Urban, Urbanism, City, Cities, History, Zeyka, Zeyka India

“By far the greatest and the most admirable form of wisdom is that needed to plan and beautify cities and human communities." - Socrates


Have you heard the statement that goes like, "I want to make this world a better place to live in." This is perhaps the most simplified expression of why we do what we do. An engineer can do it through software or product. A writer can do so through storytelling. A photographer can do so through photo-essays. And a designer can do so through their design.


Urban designer, you say? They quite literally aim to build this world into a better place.


What is urban design? Who is an urban designer? Are architects urban designers? Who are city-planners? What do they do? And how are they different from one another?


Ayadi Mishra, Aishwarya Jadhav, Ajinkya Jamadar, Urban Design Theory, Architects, Architecting, Architecture, Architectural, Design, Planning, Urban, Urbanism, City, Cities, History, Zeyka, Zeyka India

Traditionally, our city development and its design has been dealt with by people who come from the fields of architecture and planning. Both of these are vast domains and engage with the city at different scales. Architecture deals with the smaller scales of buildings and townships. Whereas planning deals with scale of local area plans, regional plans and development plans. And amidst the two rigid practices of design and development, a relatively recent, third field emerged, which is known as urban design. A simplified overview would be that it traverses both the scales of engagement and practices as previously mentioned. As an urban designer, one may deal with something as intimate as a street or something as big as a city region. So in some sense it operates and provides the best of both worlds.


But that is just oversimplification intended to help one locate where Urban design as a profession stands. There is, of course, more to it.


Ayadi Mishra, Aishwarya Jadhav, Ajinkya Jamadar, Urban Design Theory, Architects, Architecting, Architecture, Architectural, Design, Planning, Urban, Urbanism, City, Cities, History, Zeyka, Zeyka India

Urban design is a collaborative and multidisciplinary process that seeks to shape the physical environment around us. It is as one may say, the art and science of developing places and making them work. Beyond the design of spaces and landscapes, urban design also establishes frameworks and procedures that will deliver successful development over time.


Architects, urban planners, and urban designers are very different from other professionals. Design and development operate on a different time. The profession operates towards the future. Architects and urban planners always find themselves working in the realm of the future. By doing something creative today, they may (sometimes may not) impact tomorrow. They seek to establish procedures and mechanisms that would be successful over time.


Ayadi Mishra, Aishwarya Jadhav, Ajinkya Jamadar, Urban Design Theory, Architects, Architecting, Architecture, Architectural, Design, Planning, Urban, Urbanism, City, Cities, History, Zeyka, Zeyka India

Like the one who practices architecture is an architect, the one who practices urban design is known as an urban designer or an urban practitioner. However, the term 'practitioner' is an umbrella term which encloses within itself any person or stakeholder who is involved in the building and management of urban governance structures. So, to operate as an urban practitioner, one may not necessarily have an educational background in urban design or planning. Even someone like a local body representative is an urban practitioner.


So what do urban practitioners do? What do they practice? What do they preach?


Urban practitioners majorly help in the planning and management of spatial development in urban areas. With issues of justice and sustainability embedded in our cities, current practices are mostly informed by sustainable, people-centric, and gender-sensitive approaches to urban development.


Ayadi Mishra, Aishwarya Jadhav, Ajinkya Jamadar, Urban Design Theory, Architects, Architecting, Architecture, Architectural, Design, Planning, Urban, Urbanism, City, Cities, History, Zeyka, Zeyka India

As design and planning consultants, the practitioners are foremost involved in reinvigorating long-term and integrated urban planning in order to optimise the spatial dimension of urban form.


Take the case of Jan Gehl. Gehl earned his BA and MA in architecture in the 1960s. He began practicing as an architect first. Through his earlier work and a consistent push for humane values, he moved towards the design of social and public spaces. In 1966 he received a grant to study the form and use of public space. This was a pivotal point in his life after which he completely engaged with urban design, public spaces, and the space between buildings. Is that architecture? Yes, right? He then wrote books like Life Between Buildings 1971, Public Spaces-Public Life 1996, and New City Spaces 2008. After his first book, he worked as a senior lecturer and as an urban design consultant.


While this path may look normal to us now, we have to remember that this happened around the 1960s. That is just about 40 years after the profession entered the market. As a professional in the field of urban design, he professed the values of humane design, human scale and interaction. So in retrospect, he explored the concepts of justice and people-centric approaches even before they prominently appeared in academic literature.


Gehl trained as an architect and later became an urban design consultant. But can anybody become an urban design consultant and practitioner without having an architecture or planning background? The answer is yes.


Kalpana Vishwanath, a doctor in sociology, became a social entrepreneur after starting Safetipin, an enterprise that uses technology and apps to collect data for the safe movement of women in public spaces. She has worked as a senior advisor at UN Habitat, an international centre for the prevention of crime, and was even a project director for the gender-inclusive cities project. Vishwanath studied sociology at the University of Delhi and did her Ph.D. on ‘A sociological analysis of the contemporary women's movement in Indi.’ And after that, she worked in that domain extensively with various other organisations and then eventually launched an exemplary app that tries to make our cities safe for women. Even without prior education in architecture or planning, she actively engages in issues in the city. So, can we say she is an urban design consultant or practitioner? Yes. She is.


Ayadi Mishra, Aishwarya Jadhav, Ajinkya Jamadar, Urban Design Theory, Architects, Architecting, Architecture, Architectural, Design, Planning, Urban, Urbanism, City, Cities, History, Zeyka, Zeyka India

In principle, anyone involved in building the urban governance structure and establishment of a supportive framework is an urban practitioner. These practitioners help in developing policies and integrated systems through partnerships and cooperation with the government. They appropriate the role of national governments in the definition and implementation of urban policies whilst recognizing the contributions of local governments and civil societies.


As professionals, they profess certain values and as practitioners, have deep underlying commitments for sustainable urban development. They strive to address poverty, equity, opportunity, socio-economic and cultural diversity, and liveability. Be it Vishwanath's effort for a digital app or Gehl's effort on guidebooks for the public, we understand that these practitioners strive to ensure public participation and enhance accessibility. By ensuring the access to resources and creation of jobs, such practitioners help us build inclusive urban economies and help advance social function.


Together with governments and people, urban practitioners reflect a shared vision of cities for all by promoting inclusivity to ensure that all inhabitants, of present and future generations, are able to inhabit and produce just, healthy, accessible, affordable, safe, resilient, sustainable cities and human settlements.

Ayadi Mishra, Aishwarya Jadhav, Ajinkya Jamadar, Urban Design Theory, Architects, Architecting, Architecture, Architectural, Design, Planning, Urban, Urbanism, City, Cities, History, Zeyka, Zeyka India




About the Writer

Ajinkya Jamadar is an architect with an inclination towards Sustainable Development and Urban Ecologies. He has previously worked at Bangalore based architecture firm Biome Environmental Solutions. He is a graduate of the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), Bhopal.


About the Editor

Aishwarya Jadhav is an architect, urban researcher, and software trainer by profession. She is a travel enthusiast, architectural photographer, and literary writer. She is a graduate of the School of Geography and Planning, Cardiff University, UK and the Sir J.J. School of Architecture, Mumbai. She has experience working at Urban Liveability Forum, Dharmalaya Institute for Compassionate Living and Abhikalpan Architects and Planners.


About the Illustrator

Ayadi Mishra is an undergraduate architecture student at the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), Bhopal. She is a writer, illustrator and graphic designer. She has experience working with An Architect, Ethos India, WPF Creatives, Nivedha Foundation, SkyManga. She has attended summer school at the Hunnarshala Foundation for Building Technology & Innovations, Bhuj, and has been a finalist in Solar Decathlon India.

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