Making people friendly towns

carey baker
13 December 2005

Making people friendly towns

© Janet Tibbalds

Disclaimer The information provided on the RUDI system is done so in good faith. Neither RUDI Ltd nor any of its respective information providers, licensors, employees or agents accept any liability for the accuracy of any information so provided, and no warranty is given, either express or implied that the information contained therein is accurate or can be relied upon for any particular purpose. The information provided on the RUDI system is not available for re-dissemination.


Francis Tibbalds drawing

About this book

We are all afraid - for our confidence, for the future, for the world. That is the nature of the human imagination. Yet every man, every civilisation, has gone forward because of its engagement with what it has set itself to do. The personal commitment of a man to his skill, the intellectual commitment and the emotional commitment working together as one, has made the Ascent of Man.

J. Bronowski: The Ascent of Man


Francis Tibbalds was an architect and town planner with over thirty years' experience in both the private and public sectors until his death in January 1992. He was founding Chairman of the Urban Design Group (1979) and President of the Royal Town Planning Institute (1988).

His philosophical approach to the problems facing our towns and cities shows clearly how the individual components that make up the built environment matter less than places as a whole. This informative book suggests the way forward for professionals, decision-makers and all those who care about the future of our urban environment, revealing to the reader a wealth of thriving examples of successful town planning.

Many principles of urban design have stood the test of time and can be applied to making our towns and cities better places in a sensible and economically viable manner. Emphasizing the importance of understanding why some traditional towns and buildings have proved pleasing and successful, Tibbalds argues that these qualities should be built into new developments which are clearly of their own age yet at the same time 'people-friendly'.

Covering the important issues of pedestrian freedom, how to make places clear, easy-to-use and accessible, together with a discussion of building to human scale, Tibbalds suggests that the sought-after quality of 'people-friendliness' can only be achieved through the correct mix of uses and activities. He highlights the need to build developments that will last and adapt, with people controlling the scale and pace of change, and asserts that a clear understanding of how these elements join together is vital to achieving the ideal 'People-Friendly Town'.

Making People Friendly Towns was first published by Longman Group Ltd in 1992. A new paperback edition, including a foreword by Terry Farrell and an afterword by Kevin Murray, is published by Spon Press, an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, in September 2000, priced at £19.99 [ISBN 0-415-23759-9 Simultaneously published in the USA and Canada by Spon Press].   © Janet Tibbalds.

This electronic version of some parts of the 2000 edition was created by RUDI in January 2001.

The Francis Tibbalds Trust was set up after his death with the aim of promoting and continuing the work he began. His passionately held views and philosophies continue to be highly regarded in the Urban Design arena. All proceeds from this book will go to the Trust. Further information can be obtained at or by emailing


American strip
The ugly American strip or the tight-knit organic European historic town? They are both man-made environments. Yet they lie at opposite ends of a continuum. We need to decide what sort of environments we should be making and how to achieve them.


The author records his warm thanks to the following for permission to include in this book, for worldwide publication, selected extracts or quotations from the publications shown:


Jonathan Cape Limited, The Human Zoo, by Desmond Morris, 1969.

Design, A City is not a Tree, by Christopher Alexander, 1966.

BBC Worldwide, The Ascent of Man, by Dr Jacob Bronowski, 1973.

George Melly, article on London, The Guardian, 1989.

Rogers, Coleridge and White Limited, Offbeat England, by Miles Kington, The Independent, 1988.

The Controller, HMSO Publications, How do you Want to Live, 1972, Traffic in Towns, 1963; The Report of the Commission on the Third London Airport and Planning for Beauty (by Judy Hillman for the Royal Fine Art Commission), 1990. © Crown copyright.

Random House Inc, and Jonathan Cape Limited (British Commonwealth rights), The Death and Life of Great American Cities, by Jane Jacobs, 1961.

All of the illustrations in this book were drawn by the author, with the exception of the two figure ground plans included on pages 10 and 11, which were drawn by the author's younger son, Benedict Tibbalds. All photographs were taken by the author.


In former years, the environment has not been a dominant subject in people's minds. Today it is. We have higher standards. We want more worldly goods and more attractive surroundings. We also want repose. We want to escape from everyday worries and have fun, but not to sit in a traffic jam for hours on the way to the coast. We want better education for our children and job opportunities when they leave school or university. We want to provide for the future, live in the present and keep some reminders of the past. We want roots, we want security, we want to belong. We want to live in a habitat which is convenient, which is human, yet containing elements of beauty which can inspire us and lift our spirit towards ambition and adventure. It is the enterprise and ingenuity of her people which has made Britain great. Now is the moment for us to give our time, our talents, and our individual expertise to help achieve an environment which we can all share, can all enjoy, and of which we can all be justly proud.

That quotation, from a United Kingdom government-sponsored publication entitled How Do You Want to Live, was written in 1972. It could have been written yesterday. The aspirations set out therein and the requirements for action are, in the last decade of the twentieth century, if anything, now much more acute. Are we content to let them become even more acute in 20 years time? Or are we going, at last, to try to do something to bring about a substantial improvement to the quality of our urban life?

This book is about the design, maintenance and management of our towns and cities - particularly their central areas. It has been written in the context, not only of a current resurgence of interest in and dismay about buildings and development but also a serious decline in the quality of the public realm.

It has always been easy to identify past mistakes. It is altogether more difficult to prescribe better ways of approaching the problem of making urban areas more user friendly. This book aims both to stimulate a new philosophical approach and to propose practical suggestions.

The principal hypotheses are that firstly, overall places matter more than individual components of the urban environment, such as buildings, roads and parks; and secondly, that an understanding of what has succeeded in the past can usefully inform the way we design and manage new, innovative environments.

At a practical level, there is no substitute for looking, seeing and learning. It is important to go and look at as many good examples of town making as possible. We can all learn a good deal from principles of urban design and planning which have stood the test of time and can be applied to present day needs in an economically viable manner.

The book draws on some thirty years of practice, observation, case studies and sketching and incorporates some of the themes developed during an enjoyable year as President of the Royal Town Planning Institute in 1988.

I do not want it to be an opaque or esoteric book. It is addressed to a wide range of professionals, students and interested lay people both in the United Kingdom and internationally and I hope that its messages are useful, clear and simple.

I should like to dedicate this book to a number of people who have all genuinely influenced my thinking on the matters covered herein. They are Walter Bor, the late Dr Jacob Bronowski, Sir Cohn Buchanan, Jonathon Porritt, Jaquelin Robertson and His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales. Coupled with these names I would like to record warmest thanks to my wife, Janet, and two sons, Adam and Benedict, who supported this endeavour and quietly suffered me sitting at a word processor and sketch pad for hours on end. Warm thanks must also go to Maritz Vandenberg for encouraging me to write the book in the first place and maintaining a fatherly interest in its progress. Finally, I must also humbly acknowledge the many hundreds of people simply going about their business in different parts of the world, whom I have observed and listened to as they enjoy - or loathe - their local physical environment.

Foreword by Terry Farrell

I first met Francis Tibbalds during the 1980s in connection with the Urban Design Group. One of his singular achievements was bringing urban design to the general attention of architects, planners, landscape architects and even politicians. The founding of the Urban Design Group in 1979 was quite a milestone and led to the subsequent awareness of urban design in Britain. The group was led by far-sighted and passionate people as well as Francis - John Worthington of DEGW, Jane Priestman and Alan Baxter, among others. These people not only saw urban design as the way forward and the answer to much of the country's urban problems but were also able to offer an insight into the nature of these problems.

Francis' outlook towards urban design was one with which I have great sympathy. His deep interest in urbanism extended to an understanding of how the city works as a historical layering of successive generations - the city as the work of many hands. The best solutions to the city's problems arise from a collaboration of different professionals and under Francis' leadership various multi-disciplinary people were brought together. The Urban Design Group exemplified this 'many hands' approach as planners, architects and other environmentalists worked together to create environments that responded to people's needs. In 1988 he brought out his award-winning 'Ten Commandments of Good Urban Design', where his statements - 'Thou shalt consider places before buildings'; 'Thou shalt have the humility to learn from the past and respect thy context' - now seem so obvious but were then quite controversial. Looking beyond the confines of design, as President of the Royal Town Planning Institute, Francis lobbied for political action toward homelessness as well as the improvement of public transport infrastructure.

He would be extremely pleased to see how the debate has been widened today, particularly through the Urban Design Alliance (UDAL), which has extended the thinking and concepts behind the Urban Design Group and transformed it into a broad-based, professional group of architects, civil engineers, town planners, surveyors and landscape architects. UDAL works alongside the Urban Design Group, and is now recognised as one of the strong forces speaking for urban design. I am sure Francis would marvel at the results of the government-backed Urban Task Force and its report Towards an Urban Renaissance, and especially the way politicians and ministers of state so frequently use the very words 'urban design' as part of their accepted language. Equally pronounced is the revolution towards urbanism in the field of design. Every architect and designer recognises that the future of our cities is a central theme. This outlook is in marked contrast to the time in which Francis and his colleagues launched the Urban Design Group.

As well as collaborating together on the Urban Design Group, Francis and I overlapped professionally. His practice, Tibbalds Monro, worked with TFP very successfully on many projects. Francis had a wonderful skill with drawings, as well as great clarity of thinking in terms of understanding problems and expressing solutions. He set up an extremely good practice with very sound, gifted people around him. We enjoyed working together on the development at King's Cross, for example, where our alternative scheme - low-rise, public transport-based and not grandiose - was one of the serious contenders to unravel the problems and missed opportunities of that area in the l980s. We also collaborated on a scheme for a shopping complex in Wimbledon Town Centre. This project was a good example of thinking in urban-design terms in that it produced alternatives to the common anti-urban solutions. He and I were consequently often pitched together against the forces of ignorance and grandiose modernity that then characterised urban planning. Finally, we collaborated on the redevelopment of Charing Cross station and masterplan This was one I remember best because we worked together not only as urban designers on the area around the station, but also on detailed design and cladding.

I remember Francis as extraordinarily professional, very earnest and hardworking, with a passion and commitment to his work and the field he worked in. This is exemplified by the reputation of his practice and also of course his professional roles - he was President of the Royal Town Planning Institute and Vice President of the European Council of Town Planners. But for me his lasting memory is his contribution as a draftsman and artist. Not only are his sketches wonderfully good, but he also had the ability to do simple diagrams that encapsulated his whole wider thought in an extraordinarily simple way. In particular, Francis was a great asset to London, tirelessly championing its heritage and improvement. In general, he elevated urban design from a minority interest into a cause at the forefront of urban thinking.

Making People-Friendly Towns is a fitting epitaph to what Francis thought, what he stood for, what he achieved and how he presented his work. The book is as relevant today as it was when he completed it, just days before he died.

Terry Farrell
March 2000

1 The Decline of the Public Realm
2 'Places' Matter Most
3 What are the Lessons from the Past?
4 Mixing Uses and Activities
5 Human Scale
6 Pedestrian Freedom
7 Access for All
8 Making it Clear
9 Lasting Environments
10 Controlling Change
11 Joining it all Together

12. A Renaissance of the Public Realm?

Man is a singular creature. He has a set of gifts which make him unique among the animals: so that, unlike them, he is not a figure in the landscape. In body and in mind he is the explorer of nature, the ubiquitous animal, who did not find but has made his home in every continent.

Jacob Bronowski 1973: The Ascent of Man

The most powerful drive in the ascent of man is his pleasure in his own skill. He loves to do what he does well and, having done it well, he loves to do it better. You see it in his science. You see it in the magnificence with which he carves and builds, the loving care, the gaiety, the effrontery. The monuments are supposed to commemorate kings and religions, heroes, dogmas, but in the end the man they commemorate is man the builder.


Pompidou - Click to enlarge

Planning is about determining the future environment and looking after our heritage. Market forces and free enterprise would not give high priority to either of those activities - and why should they? They are primarily concerned with the private rather than the public realm. We have a planning system quite simply because it is difficult for fragmented private interests to care for the public realm - whether that be the provision of a major piece of infrastructure or the protection of a beautiful rural area or a historic town centre, or deciding where is the best place to locate major new development. How can disparate private interests ensure that resources are invested to maximum effect and benefit? There are now dozens of examples of overseas aid programmes where huge investment in capital development has resulted in all manner of white elephants, because nobody thought it necessary to carry out a little planning first - quite ironic, when the cost of this is so negligible when set against construction and implementation costs. Planning, then, can be cost-effective - good value for money.

Covent Garden - Click to enlarge

Both new buildings and refurbished buildings can contribute to an enhanced public realm. Fantastic viewing opportunities are provided from the top of the Centre Pompidou, Paris, while space for all manner of public outdoor theatre now exists in front of Covent Garden's remodelled Market Hall.


If we want a vision of what happens with little or no planning - to see the inevitable environments of private affluence and public squalor - there are many places we can go - the Middle East, the United States, many Third World countries (try Lagos for starters!) - and, I dare to ask, is the London Docklands area going the same way? There is an example of a free market environment - are the banal Canary Wharf and surrounding mess of superficial Legoland buildings on the Isle of Dogs really what we want? Fortunately the Royal Docks area may be better as the Development Corporation is now subscribing to a bit more planning and urban design.

By contrast, I have had the fascinating experience of taking a helicopter trip over a large part of Holland. I couldn’t have had a more cogent physical demonstration of successful urban planning - clearly defined towns, well-located new settlements, a very comprehensive transport and infrastructure system and a protected Green Heart for agriculture and recreation. It can be done. Planning achievements are achieved over long time spans. Short-term cycles in the development market, coupled with the relatively short-term periods of office of central and local governments, do not provide the best context for the achievement of long-term visions. A coalition of interests is required, subscribing to an agreed vision and committed to making it happen over a potentially very long time scale. The vision will be multi-faceted and undoubtedly beset by many ifs and buts. Out of the complexity will need to come one or two, key, simple, cogent ideas which are easy to grasp and capture the imagination of the city’s administrative, business and residential community. It is vital, particularly at times of recession and a slowing down of development activity, that cities hold out for what is right in the longer term. Compromise, poor quality, ‘development at any price’ will cause long-lasting damage and quickly be bitterly resented.

London skyline - Click to enlarge

The skyline of a city is an expression of the public realm, in which culture, commerce, entertainment and living come together for the good of the inhabitants - the skyline of the City of London seen from the west.


Recessions in the construction industry actually provide wonderful opportunities to sort out some of the problems of the past, to take stock of the town or city and decide what is best for its future. It is a chance, not to make imprudent concessions to developers, but to retain low-cost, smaller uses, while preparing for a future up-turn.

There is the need to take a twenty to fifty year view of a city’s future: not a three or four year one. It is vital to look beyond what is politically expedient in the short term. Ideally there should be multi-partisan commitment to explicit strategic goals as a better framework for making business and other decisions about the future of the city. Commitment to good ideas is vital, so that politicians are able to carry forward their implementation beyond three to five year governmental cycles.

Towns and cities can learn from each other. Their inhabitants and administrators need to be ever watchful that they do not make the same mistakes as other cities around the world - particularly vis a vis private cars, single-use monolithic development, elevated pedestrian decks and bridges, internal retail malls and a hands-off approach to planning. Mixed uses are important, not just to create an interesting, lively city. Wealth, of ideas as well as capital, is created by putting different disciplines, people and activities, cheek-by-jowl. New ideas are born as they are sparked off one another. There is the need for like-minded people to work in close association with each other, collegiate-style, not in separate organizations or Ministries. They need direct access to decision-makers and those who control the city’s resources. Strong, single-minded leadership is vital.

Robinson College - Click to enlarge
Charing Cross - Click to enlarge
Dockside Swansea - Click to enlarge New buildings are getting friendlier in their mass and detailing - inventive windows at Robinson College, Cambridge and mellow dockside housing at the new Maritime Quarter in Swansea, Wales. Great care is still needed not to squeeze out marginally economic uses - like this umbrella shop in a side street off London's Charing Cross Road - which, though small, make a disproportionately high contribution to the public life of a city.

The British planning system has actually secured many worthwhile achievements - protection of rural areas, planned growth in urban areas, conservation of our heritage, protection to old buildings, planned new towns and cities, urban regeneration and sensitive re-structuring of existing towns to accommodate new uses, to mitigate the effects of traffic and to create new pedestrian areas. Although, for the most part, it totally failed to stop the devastation wreaked on many town and city centres by the comprehensive redevelopment schemes of the 1950s and 1960s - now hated and reviled by the community and today’s professionals - we can all think of dreadful proposals which have been stopped by the British development control system.

As an urban designer, I am less interested in wringing hands about past mistakes by architects and planners - anybody can criticize. What is more important is to cultivate a new spirit of collaboration between architects, planners, developers and the community. Where this is happening, it is bringing a wholly better approach to our work.

In Britain, another favourable sign is the quality of results in fairly run-of-the-mill developments in our towns and cities. Buildings are on the whole friendlier. New buildings are increasingly respecting their context and are developing on a human scale which is concerned with pedestrian comfort and involves areas of mixed land use. I welcome unreservedly today’s more humble approach throughout the development professions and the industry. The arrogance of the past made for a lot of friction, but now at least some professionals are listening properly to what people have to say. Even developers and their agents are getting the message. They are generally prepared to go out to public discussion on schemes at an earlier stage than hitherto. They are finding that good design pays. It is popular and good value for money. It matters to some of them that people like what they are producing.

One cannot ignore the profit motive in the stimulation of development and the need for patrons. Even Florence needed its patrons to achieve its superb townscape, in the form of the Church and the great banking families. However, it is quite wrong for buildings or whole towns to be viewed simply as vehicles for making money for a limited number of people. Architecture and town planning are amongst the most public of the arts - they cannot be switched off like music or put down like literature - they are there for the enjoyment of the public at large, as users, visitors or just passers-by. It is high time we started giving our towns and cities back to people.

Gran Canaria - Click to enlarge Covent Garden - Click to enlarge
East Putney - Click to enlarge Do not neglect the value of a little 'urban fun' - Terry Farrell's Egyptian-style railway station at East Putney and an ingenious water sculpture over the whole front of a shop in Covent Garden, London - or 'escapism', like these buildings and landscaping dripping exuberantly down the hillside in a Canary Islands tropical tourist paradise.

It is not part of my argument that we should ignore the needs of modern living or the economic advantages that may be conferred by new development. What I do believe is that planning applications should be refused over and over again until a result is secured which will make a demonstrable and positive contribution to the quality of the built urban environment and the quality of life to be enjoyed by the people who use it. We should not be bullied by developers, even where a town or city is desperate for development. Let the poor and insensitive ones go away in frustration and bad grace and let them go out of business. There are, fortunately, always a few developers with a much more sensitive and caring approach to the places in which they operate. They will be helped to stay in business if they do good work. We are the consumers. Our views are sovereign.

Similarly, unless something fairly radical is done about traffic in our towns and cities - particularly the unchecked reliance on private cars - our town centres and city centres are, quite simply, going to die.

Many town centres are a mess because there is nobody who cares about them as a whole. They suffer from organizational neglect. In some places Town Centre Managers have been successfully introduced to cut through the diffused, uncoordinated control exercised by existing local authority departments. They have a janitorial role (similar to the Manager of a Shopping Centre); a responsibility for promoting and developing the town centre; and, handling day-to-day management. It requires commitment and a low-key, persistent individual with access to decision-makers.

Small initiatives are important, such as moving obstacles on the pavement or cutting down the noise and pollution for those who like to eat outside. Experiment is important. Successful results can be used to assemble a coalition of interests to push worthwhile initiatives in the right direction.


A good environment and an attractive public realm are not just created by professional specialists - architects, town planners, engineers, landscape architects and so on - or even just by the patrons of those professionals. They are created and maintained by the love and care of the people who live and work in a town or city. The individual contribution may be quite modest - the shopkeeper who not only makes attractive window dressings, but also arranges decorative wares on the pavement; the owner who keeps to local colour themes in painting and decorating the exterior of his or her building; or, the resident who lovingly arranges colourful tiers of potted plants where they can be enjoyed by passers-by or encourages creepers to enrich an otherwise bland or unattractive facade (see Chapter 5).

In France, culture and pride in one’s surroundings are vote winners. In England, Ministers still regard the same things as vote losers, in the context that the majority of people view decay, litter and urban squalor as someone else’s problem. Look how the British Government’s own Time for Design Initiative and its subsequent monitoring were starved of resources. The me first ethos of the so-called Enterprise Culture has contributed to an unhealthy public attitude to such problems. Actually what we urgently need is a renaissance of our once strong civic pride.


Bookshop - Click to enlarge


Simple rules or principles for the design and management of the public realm can be very effective. Many countries have such codes and these appear not to inhibit the good designer from producing wholly original, modern designs, which are appropriate to the context. It must surely be preferable to have such guidance spelled out at the briefing stage, before the architect has become wedded to a particular solution, than afterwards to subject a design to interference and arbitrary compromise on the basis of the subjective judgements of officials and politicians. Good architects should not fear such guidance which would seek not only to prevent the poor and mediocre but also to encourage excellence and innovation.


A society that lists buildings for preservation, designates conservation areas and selects other areas as being of outstanding natural beauty, is clearly declaring its belief in objective standards
(Lord St John of Fawsley, Foreword to 'Planning for Beauty').


Planning authorities need to draw up local design guidelines and use them sensibly - as a checklist to encourage good design, not as a straightjacket to stifle creativity or original thought. This has been done successfully in other places around the world. The cities of Washington and San Francisco have established height guidelines. Bologna insists on arcades. Lanzarote insists on low rise development in white and dark green. Most United States cities have planning codes which consider the critical variables of use, bulk, height, density, building lines.


Local urban design guide-lines can be devised and are useful, as this selection from London and Birmingham, Melbourne, San Francisco and Lanzarote shows: with the local topography
... design the skyline
...make it obvious when a river or canal is being crossed street frontages and corners
... design shopfronts as part of the whole building
...make enclosed outdoor rooms visual markers into the corners and tops of buildings
...mark the entrances to urban centres
...give tall buildings distinctive profiles, especially the tops
...where important, insist on consistency of scale and colour.
Lanzarote - Click to enlarge
Building corner
Tall buildings
Tall buildings


San Francisco has been particularly farsighted in stipulating appropriate colours - basically pastel shades - for tall buildings, banning mirror glass and prohibiting the overshadowing of public spaces. Street lines are maintained and tall buildings have proper tops. Commercial developers must contribute, in cash or kind, 1 square foot of open space (public square, arcade, atrium, park or garden) for every 50 square feet of built development - not in return for more floorspace, but because, without it, planning permission will not be forthcoming.

It is, perhaps, most sensible that national governments should set down urban design guidelines appropriate for the country as a whole, to be used as a checklist. Local planning authorities should then develop, refine and adapt these to suit local circumstances, having regard to variations of topography, heritage, climate, history and culture, the existing context and local colours, materials and decoration.


Belfast - Click to enlarge
Design must be a material consideration, in both the popular and legal senses of the word, in assessing all proposals for urban development. Designers and developers should be invited to submit short design statements with their proposals. For example, why is the corner of this new Belfast departmental store, in Northern Ireland, curved? Is the entrance clear? Is it the right height and form for this particular street? Are the materials appropriate? Does it provide a pedestrian-friendly frontage? ...and so on. If this book gives encouragement to ask these and other questions about proposals which will change the face of our towns and cities throughout the world, then it will have succeeded in its purpose.


What needs to happen to secure the renaissance of the public realm? I have five suggestions.

Firstly, we need greater commitment from national governments - and the responsible environmental Ministers. They need to take a greater interest in the design of the public realm. It is not enough to grumble about litter. Litter is a symptom of decay in a public environment which is being starved both of expenditure and imagination. We are drifting towards an environment of private affluence and public squalor.

It is difficult to legislate for good design. That doesn’t mean that we mustn’t try. For example, in the United Kingdom, I would like to see the Secretary of State for the Environment promulgate a forceful piece of advice to planning authorities which can be given considerable weight in deciding planning and development applications. A suggested text for this is given at the end of this book. As a minimum, design must become a material consideration in determining planning applications. The hands-off brigade have failed totally to demonstrate that the public environment is safe in their hands in the absence of planning control and design guidance.

Secondly, some radical changes are needed in the training of the professions concerned with the design of the urban environment - architects, town planners, landscape architects, engineers, surveyors, estate managers and so on. The gaps between them have got to be closed. It is all too often in the Schools that the rot sets in. What is needed is joint training at every opportunity - shared foundation courses, interdisciplinary projects and staff-swapping between departments.

Thirdly, urban design needs to be properly recognized within local planning authority structures. It is more than a tame architect giving, on a part-time basis, design observations on never-ending piles of mediocre planning applications. It is about caring for the physical quality of the area as a whole - looking after its past and designing its future. It is about making good things happen.

Fourthly, what can the professional institutions do? They should be aiming to draw into the professions people with the right capabilities to improve the urban environment. Design skills are important. But so is a sensitive approach to the after-care and management of places, an understanding of the economic and social dynamics of change and the ability to seize opportunities as they are presented.

Fifthly and finally, community and professionals must always be thinking good design. Good design means added value. It also means caring about the community and their physical environment.

What is required to achieve the vision of towns and cities which are more people-friendly is not head-on confrontation - usually messy and unsuccessful - but, instead, the reinforcement of existing worthwhile initiatives and momentum and the abandonment of the detrimental ones. The trick is, judo style, to give a good push to everything which is going in the right direction. At the same time we must stop accepting the mediocre and second best in town design.


Lincoln Cathedral - Click to enlarge

It is easy for everyone to love townscape like this - around Lincoln Cathedral, England. At the end of the day, what matters most is that we try to understand why we like what has succeeded in the past. Such an understanding can, and must, inform the way in which we design and manage new, innovative environments. It will also help us to stem the drift into universal, anonymous mediocrity. Then, once again, perhaps we can create more people-friendly towns and cities.



Recommendations / action checklist

To everyone:


Look at every proposal again and again. How can it be made better? How does it square up to the axioms in the preceding ten Chapters of this book?


We must all care more about the physical environment and believe in good design.


We need to foster a more open, collaborative approach amongst all participants in the development process.


We need to identify leaders who will look after our towns and cities, encourage the right things to happen and stop the bad things.



To central government:


Give greater priority to the physical environment and the long-term future.


Promulgate clear design advice in ministerial circulars and policy statements.



To local planning authorities:


Recognize the importance of urban design.


Appoint appropriate personnel at all levels of seniority to handle urban design tasks.



To the professional institutions:


Break down professional demarcations. The environmental professions should all be natural allies, working together for the good of the environment.


Encourage, in particular, the training of people with urban design skills.



To the academic institutions:


Break down narrow, insular teaching practices.


Encourage multi-disciplinary working and studying at staff and student level.


Model Guidelines for Design and Planning Control

The following guidelines are drawn from a text prepared by the author in 1989 for discussion between the Royal Town Planning Institute, the Royal Institute of British Architects, the development industry and the Department of the Environment, United Kingdom. The text was formally submitted to the Secretary of State for the Environment in March 1990 as a suggested basis for a Ministerial Circular or Planning Policy Guidance Note on Design and Planning Control. Such guidelines could form a useful foundation for the drawing up of guidance which is specifically relevant to a particular town, city, region or country. They summarize the principal tenets of this book.

The importance of good design


This advice is aimed at improving what is often a difficult area of planning control, to the benefit of those making development proposals, planning authorities and the public. Developers and planning authorities need to recognize the importance of engaging good design skills and striving for high standards of design.


Good design is not just socially responsible. It also adds value to development, for example, by commanding good rents, by maintaining enhanced capital growth and by requiring less maintenance. Well-designed development need not be costly - imagination, creativity and sensitivity can create high quality at low or modest cost. Simply cladding a poor design in expensive materials will not achieve this.


Good design must be the aim of everyone involved in the development process. The products should be buildings which are well designed for their purpose and their surroundings, and a public environment (the spaces between buildings) which is attractive to use, visually stimulating and easy to manage and maintain.


The planning process should seek to encourage and facilitate excellence, innovation and creativity in design while discouraging and preventing poor and mediocre proposals. Design should be a material consideration in the determination of all applications for development.


Good design should essentially be the responsibility of the client - as developer, owner, financier or builder - and the designer - as architect, artist or craftsman. This responsibility is not always met - for example, where economic viability obscures most, if not all, design considerations. Nor is it axiomatic that all designers are good designers. It is therefore important that the public, usually through the medium of the planning authority, should develop helpful means of encouraging better design in their areas.


Good design is not easy to define, because it is subjective and it depends whose value systems are being applied. It should, however, be possible to reach widespread agreement that the basic aim is to create buildings and spaces which combine to form an attractive public realm - that is, places which can be seen and enjoyed by the public.


What is of particular importance is the recognition that good design is not just a matter of attention to elevational design.

Development control


Planning authorities should, therefore, consider the design aspect of development proposals in relation both to their intrinsic qualities and to their setting. Such consideration should include:
...the nature of the uses proposed and their impact on their surroundings. Uses at ground level should be appropriate to a pedestrian environment and mixed uses should be encouraged on urban sites wherever practicable.
...the scale, height, bulk and density of the proposed development. These should be appropriate to the specific context. Since buildings are perceived at different distances - on the skyline, down a street or across a square, or close to eye level and people walking about - their visual impact needs to be considered at each of these scales. Roofscape - as an important fifth elevation - should not be neglected.
...the layout of buildings, space about buildings and landscape treatment. Left-over tracts of land should be avoided and generally layouts should aim to produce attractive, intricate places related to the scale of people walking. It will be important to exploit the individuality, uniqueness and differences between places and to encourage freedom of access and movement, particularly for pedestrians. The needs of the disabled must also be positively taken into account. Good landscaping, whether hard or soft, formal or informal, is important - its mellowing and softening effect helps to knit development together to form an attractive, coherent whole.
...access, roads and parking areas. Access arrangements need to be clear, safe and efficient and designed to minimize harmful impacts by motor vehicles - such as noise, pollution, visual intrusion, severance and danger - upon the local environment.
...the character and quality of the local environment, including the relationship to any adjoining buildings. New development should relate to its physical context in appropriate ways - for example, in scale, use, colour, materials and so on. This does not imply copying of existing styles or pastiche. It should be possible for new buildings to have the same richness, individuality, intricacy and user-friendly qualities as traditional, well-loved development. Planning control should not stifle experiment, originality or initiative.


Planning authorities should make clear their reasons for preferences regarding materials, colours, elevational design and detail and should avoid unnecessary interference in detail design and insistence on trivial alterations. If the overall design concept is well conceived, this will be unnecessary. If it is not, it is unlikely materially to be improved by minor adjustments.


Planning permission should be withheld when development proposals have insufficient regard for their impact on neighbouring property or on the local environment, or to the needs of access or represent an over-development of the site. In the circumstances of such clear-cut grounds for the refusal of permission, the applicant should at once be invited to submit revised proposals, without having to wait for formal determination.


Drawings should illustrate the proposals in their context, using perspectives, photo-montages or other three-dimensional presentation techniques whenever appropriate. Applicants must demonstrate that they have properly addressed the five sets of design considerations set out above, in the context of any additional specific guidance for the area or site issued by the planning authority. Provided this has satisfactorily been done and there are no other planning objections, permission should always be forthcoming.


Many planning applications are for relatively small-scale proposals such as extensions, conversions and minor buildings - often, though not always, submitted by applicants other than architects - which do little to enhance the local environment and whose cumulative effect can be very detrimental to local amenity. In these cases planning authorities should have a positive role in fostering better standards and awareness of the benefits of good design to the owner or developer.

Heritage areas


Many planning regimes provide for additional control in historic or conservation areas. These powers are aimed at the need to preserve and enhance the character or appearance of an area. This should not preclude the possibility of new development taking place in such areas, provided that it is designed in a sensitive manner, having regard to the special character of the area in question.


In historic or conservation areas, in addition to the considerations set out above, it is particularly important that new development should harmonize with the existing townscape, materials, historical features and local vernacular style. Innovative, sensitive design will usually be preferred to a pastiche replication of historical styles, providing it is sympathetic and appropriate to its surroundings.

Statutory plans


Planning authorities should give clearly expressed, objective design advice which is appropriate to their area. General principles should be contained, as far as practicable, in adopted statutory plans. These might, for example, include:
...the definition of areas in which mixed uses will be encouraged to create variety and a lively, safe environment;
...general height guidelines for development (either as figured dimensions or numbers of storeys) - with exceptions for buildings which, by virtue of their use or form, make a positive contribution to the skyline as landmarks;
...the encouragement of good craftsmanship, landscaping and the integration of pieces of art to enrich the public environment;
...the need to make development permeable (easy to move through and around) and legible (easy to understand and recognize where you are);
...the desirability for buildings, where appropriate, to be robust (able to adapt over time to changing opportunities and needs);
...the desirability of choosing materials for their permanence, durability, mellowing and enduring qualities, and for ease of maintenance;
...the desirability of avoiding wholesale rapid change, by encouraging the development of smaller sites, setting limits on the extent of site assembly or breaking up larger sites into more easily managed components of incremental development;
...the encouragement of more sensitive, friendly development in which colour, pattern, decoration, texture and materials - as well as technical excellence and innovation - combine to create enjoyable buildings and development; and
...the need for people to have a say in the design of the physical environment in which they live, work, shop and play.

Site briefs


In addition, planning authorities should prepare planning briefs or design briefs for sites which are important, environmentally sensitive or difficult to develop. These can be used not only to summarize the relevant policies in local plans, but also to provide essential information and design objectives related to the specific site, such as height guidance, views or view corridors to be maintained, uses, materials, roof profile or skyline, grain of development, pedestrian routes and so on.



Applicants should always consult the planning authority before formulating a development proposal to ensure that they have a clear understanding of the authority's objectives and the policies and principles against which the development proposal will subsequently be judged.

Afterword by Kevin Murray

This book is undoubtedly a seminal piece whose message is being constantly validated over time. Although partly inspired by Francis’ reaction against the qualities of alienating corporate urbanism which he witnessed emerging during the 1980s, it is the important observations and exhortations about synthesis - or ‘closing the gaps’, as he sometimes called it - which distinguish it from other, narrower works on design, planning, or urbanism. In many ways, by seeking to place urban design at the centre of a vision for a better quality of urban living, he was both of his time and ahead of his time.

Although Francis was passionate about towns and cities he did not simply wax lyrically about those places he liked. He wanted to turn his experience and insights - extensive in both time and space - into something which has practical value for professionals, politicians, communities, developers and investors. His analysis and recommendations are relevant today and will surely remain so for some time to come. This is why the book needs to be read and re-read by a wide range of new audiences over time.

Francis believed that urban design was a critical philosophy and discipline because places matter more than the individual components which make them up - buildings, spaces and structures. Fundamentally, the austere design simplicity of the modernist era of planning failed to create the enduring places people want and need. A new - or arguably, traditional - integrative approach to placemaking was required.

Although there is still a prevalent object fetishism in architecture and public art, the holistic urban design approach has continued to gain ground, not least on mainland Europe where it never really disappeared. It has been at the forefront of the much admired renaissance of post Franco Barcelona, not only in modest neighbourhood spaces but in the philosophy behind the Olympic Village. Other approaches have been pursued across the Netherlands and in the dramatic reconstruction of Berlin since re-unification.

Francis would be moderately impressed to find that urban design has slowly crept into the mainstream of UK planning and regeneration during the 1990s, featuring both in government guidance - which he pressed for strongly - and in the personal initiatives of John Gummer, when a minister.

Regeneration projects such as Newcastle Quayside, Birmingham’s Brindley Place, and more recently the post-bomb reconstruction of central Manchester, all exhibit the stronger sense of integrated urban design which has sought to emulate their international counterparts. On housing led development too, a distinctive neighbourhood approach has been pioneered by projects as diverse as Hulme in Manchester, Crown Street in Glasgow and the Duchy of Cornwall development at Poundbury, Dorchester. Some of these draw from the American approach of ‘new urbanism’ with its strong principles and building codes framed to challenge the placelessness of strips, malls and suburban sprawl. Francis’ former practice sought to apply these in their plan for the urban village of West Silvertown in London’s Royal Docks.

Perhaps one of the biggest steps in the UK has been the strong recommendation in Lord Rogers’ Urban Task Force Report that urban design - particularly three-dimensional spatial master planning - should play a key part in the regeneration of towns, cities and their neighbourhoods. Francis undoubtedly supported this objective - which he enjoyed undertaking himself - but would probably have settled for a less overtly ‘architectural’ approach than the Task Force report promotes.

The need for appropriate multi-disciplinary skills, training and practice was identified as crucial by Francis more than a decade before the Task Force, but with negligible follow through. A committed architect-planner, he was concerned that his was a dying breed, with architects acting primarily in the interests of individual developer clients, while planners focused on sectoral policies and processes.

The ‘joined up thinking’ which latterly became the watchword of political protagonists such as John Prescott, was trailed in Francis’ RTPI Presidential theme during 1988. He would have been delighted at the formation of the multi-professional Urban Design Alliance, following on his own founding of the Urban Design Group some 20 years earlier. However, the Alliance has a long way to go to make a telling impact on the training of its constituent professionals and on the environments they create. Nevertheless UDAL has made a positive impact in a number of areas, including widening the scope of the successor to the Royal Fine Arts Commission to become the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment. As a supporter of many of the developments which Stuart Lipton undertook - he would be urging us to watch the progress of CABE with interest.

Francis considered that narrow professionalism was at the root of many townscape problems and he was not afraid to become unpopular by charging fellow architects and planners, not to mention surveyors and engineers, with this crime. Nowhere was he more concerned about the gaps than in the design, implementation and management of the public realm. He would surely be impressed at the progress made in European cities such as Copenhagen, Prague and Munich in developing an attractive network of people-friendly streets and spaces. These have been matched in their own way by progressive improvements in central UK cities such as Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow and Cambridge.

Despite this progress many American cities retain a strong preference for vehicular access and dominance of town centres. There seems to be a general unwillingness to adopt the progressive removal of vehicles pioneered by Copenhagen over a thirty-year period. Nevertheless impressive steps have been made in Portland, Oregon, where a highway has been removed to create a new riverfront park; and San Francisco, where innovative public realm improvements are emerging along the corridors of elevated highways irreparably damaged by earthquake. Even New York’s sidewalks and public spaces have been improved dramatically over a decade which has seen Manhatten become cleaner, safer and more convivial for residents and visitors alike.

As Francis’ drawings in this book testify, he was a lover of variety, vitality and the richness of the urban scene. Drawing on the influential work of Jane Jacobs he was a passionate believer in the need for mixed use. This philosophy has clearly moved forward since the book was first published, gradually shifting towards the mainstream of a number of planning regimes across the globe. In the UK this has been stimulated by the advocacy of the Urban Villages Group, research by a range of bodies, and advocacy in government guidance. Some successes have been achieved in locations such as Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, Newcastle’s Grainger Town and Edinburgh’s historic port area of Leith. Specific area strategies have been adopted in Sheffield, Belfast and Dublin, focusing on both the production and consumption of cultural industries.

The mixed use challenge is to secure enough interest to stimulate regeneration through human biodiversity, although there is always the danger of adverse impacts working against the intrinsic qualities which laid the foundations of success. One-time favourites of Francis, such as London’s Covent Garden and Dublin’s Temple Bar, now exhibit some of those problematic qualities. Perhaps they need some constraints on the level of commercial occupancy, as are applied in New York’s SoHo to protect the role of its artistic and creative communities.

Francis identified our love affair with the motor car as a long-term problem for the health of our cities and, more importantly, for global sustainability. While the problems have worsened in many areas over recent years there have been improvements too. I believe he would have welcomed Croydon’s new Tramlink in South London, which would have taken him from his Beckenham home to the Croydon Library, one of his most satisfying development projects. New public transit systems in Manchester, Grenoble, Portland and Sydney have all given new dimensions to those cities. Hopefully the Heathrow Express and New Jubilee Line would have mitigated Francis’ frequent criticisms of the shortcomings of the London transport system.

It is clear therefore that in many of the areas of urban design which were of great concern to Francis Tibbalds, some positive progress has been made. Francis would undoubtedly accept those, but he would not rest on any laurels. We have not gone nearly far enough. He would look to move the debate forward, spreading the word to new audiences, using different arguments. He might contend that:


Good urban design is crucial to the local economy, both in terms of attracting and holding residents and workers. In the globalised, footloose economy of the information age, the comparative attractiveness of places is also important in retaining expenditure and taxation locally.


Tourism is positively shaped by good urban design. Those with choice will tend to visit attractive places, whether historic or modern. Ironically, the once mocked Disney Corporation are now becoming leading exponents of urban design in creating successful new settlements.


Our objectives of sustainable development can be assisted by good urban design which stimulates reinvestment in the existing urban fabric, rather than wasteful exploitation of virgin land.


Most of all, I believe, Francis would argue that good urban design, the very nurturing of our towns and cities - is the responsibility of all of us, whether professionals, politicians, developers or members of the public.

If those of us who have the opportunity can take forward Francis Tibbalds’ urban design vision with even half of his passion, then together we can make a difference by creating successful places for real people.

Kevin Murray
April 2000


This is not intended to be a comprehensive bibliography of books about urban design. Rather it is a compilation of source material and a number of other works which have been influential in the preparation of this book.

The Ascent of Man by J. Bronowski; British Broadcasting Corporation, 1973. The book of the outstanding television documentary, which charted in a most expansive manner the rise of mankind as shapers of our environment and future.

Beazley’s Design and Detail of the Space between Buildings by Angi Pinder and Alan Pinder; E. & F.N. Spon, 1990. A new edition of a book which has, for many years, been an invaluable guide to hard landscape design.

City Centre Design Strategy by Tibbalds Colbourne Karski Williams Monro; City of Birmingham, 1990. Part of a series of urban design studies commissioned by the city, taking a robust, coherent, apolitical vision over a thirty/forty year time span, of ways of improving the central area of Birmingham as opportunities for change occur.

A City is not a Tree by Christopher Alexander; Architectural Forum, 1965 and Design 1966. This article, which was selected for one of the 1965 Kaufmann International Design Awards, is one of the most influential ever written about city planning. In a mere nine pages, Dr Alexander - a mathematician as well as an architectural scholar - cogently argues that a natural city has the organization of a ‘semi-lattice’, but when we organize a city artificially, we make the mistake of doing it in a hierarchical fashion, like a tree.

The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs; Random House Inc., 1961. The book that cogently challenged hitherto fashionable theories of urban planning and land use zoning.

Green Paper on the Urban Environment. Commission of the European Communities; Brussels, June 1990. A welcome synoptic overview of problems of the urban environment in their widest sense, demonstrating that to reach solutions, traditional sectoral boundaries need to be crossed.

How Do You Want to Live? A Report on the Human Habitat for the Department of the Environment; HMSO, 1972. A study of public opinion, undertaken at the request of the then Secretary of State for the Environment, The Rt Hon. Peter Walker MP, in connection with the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, Stockholm, June 1972.

Living over the Shop - A Guide to the Provision of Housing above Shops in Town Centres; NHTPC, June 1990. A first Report of a two-year Project set up by Ann Petherick and sponsored by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Marvellous Melbourne 2000 - An Overview of Planning Opportunities with International Comparisons by Francis Tibbalds/Tibbalds Colbourne Karski Williams Monro; Department of Planning and Urban Growth, State of Victoria, Australia; July 1990. A Study for the Minister of Planning and Urban Growth aimed at identifying, considering and recommending, against a wide international perspective, opportunities for the enhancement of Central Melbourne as an international city.

Our Approach to Making User-Friendly Environments: 14 Principles of Good Practice by Tibbalds Colbourne Karski Williams Monro, London 1990. A set of principles, continually being refined, which is being used to guide projects and design work and as a management tool for staff training.

Planning for Beauty - The Case for Design Guidelines by Judy Hillman; Royal Fine Art Commission, HMSO, April 1990. A useful guide through what has become a real minefield - the relationship between design control and planning control.

The Public vs The Private Realm - the Implications for Urban Design of the Decline of the Public Realm by Francis Tibbalds; AJ Urban Design series; The Architects Journal, 7.11.90. A contribution to a series of three issues of the AJ on urban design, running from October 24 1990.

Responsive Environments - A Manual for Designers by Bentley Alcock Murrain McGlynn Smith; The Architectural Press, 1985. One of the first really comprehensive books to look at making places more ‘user friendly’ in terms of how they are used, understood and personalized.

Shahestan Pahlavi - A New City Centre for Tehran - Book Two: The Urban Design; Llewelyn-Davies International, 1976. The author was Principal Architect Planner on the team and wrote the majority of the text of this volume, dealing with urban design proposals for the new centre.

Townscape by Gordon Cullen; The Architectural Press 1961. Gordon Cullen’s robust concepts of serial vision, place and content are still directly relevant today. The sketches remain wonderful too.

Traffic in Towns - A Study of the Long Term Problems of Traffic in Urban Areas; Report of the Steering Group and Working Group appointed by the Minister of Transport; HMSO 1963. Commonly known as The Buchanan Report, this was the first real analysis of the relationship between accessibility, environmental quality and investment. It coined the now widely accepted notions of defining for each street an ‘environmental capacity’ and the definition of ‘environmental areas’ from which ‘extraneous traffic’ should be strictly excluded. It was, and still is, a landmark study.

Traffic Calming - Through Integrated Urban Planning by H.G. Vahl and J. Gisks; Editions Amarcande, December 1989. A useful primer, available in four languages, by two Dutch municipal engineers, funded by the Volvo Traffic Safety Award 1986, sharing considerable technical know-how and illustrating this with examples from the Netherlands and France.

Transport in Cities by Brian Richards; Architecture Design and Technology Press, 1990. This book succeeds New Movement in Cities [1966] and Moving in Cities [1976] by the same author and cogently demonstrates that there are viable and proven alternatives to the present nightmare of traffic congestion and pollution.

Urban Design - a special issue of The Planner; Journal of the Royal Town Planning Institute; March 1988. This issue helped reveal a strong latent interest in the subject of urban design amongst the British planning profession.

A Vision of Britain - a Personal View of Architecture by His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales; Doubleday, 1989. The book of the landmark television documentary in which Prince Charles not only dramatically raised public interest in the design of the built environment, but also cogently challenged ‘the fashionable theories of a professional establishment which has made the layman feel he has no legitimate opinions’.

  • Sorry, there are no results

TransportXtra is part of Landor LINKS

© 2023 TransportXtra | Landor LINKS Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Subscriptions, Magazines & Online Access Enquires
[Frequently Asked Questions]
Email: | Tel: +44 (0) 20 7091 7959

Shop & Accounts Enquires
Email: | Tel: +44 (0) 20 7091 7855

Advertising Sales & Recruitment Enquires
Email: | Tel: +44 (0) 20 7091 7861

Events & Conference Enquires
Email: | Tel: +44 (0) 20 7091 7865

Press Releases & Editorial Enquires
Email: | Tel: +44 (0) 20 7091 7875

Privacy Policy | Terms and Conditions | Advertise

Web design london by Brainiac Media 2020