Good Planning and Quality Urban Design

Galway City Council Planning Department, Local Policymakers, National Transport Authority, Construction Industry

Meeting House Square, Temple Bar [Photo Courtesy William Murphy (Flickr)]
Meeting House Square, Temple Bar [Photo Courtesy William Murphy (Flickr)]
Urban designers have the challenging goal of making urban areas functional, attractive and sustainable for about half the global population who now live in cities. Urban design and architecture are crucial to the quality of life and wellbeing of urban dwellers and visitors to cities. Galway is no exception. Urban design determines to a large degree whether or not we enjoy a city. It has a large affect on how we experience a city, whether we feel safe, whether we wish to be there, if we feel we belong to a place and so on.

Cities with good urban design are accessible to all and allow everyone to better participate in the life of the city. Quality urban design is crucial to the economic health of Galway, especially in the tourism sector. The vibrant and attractive medieval city centre is a key attraction and should be protected.

All of Galway City should have a high quality urban environment that is more vibrant, safe, sustainable and healthy. Promotion of quality urban design will make Galway more inviting and support a sense of community and belonging. It also attracts people and businesses looking for a good quality of life to set up in Galway.

Here are some of the elements that could help create a high quality urban environment:
– Good planning: We all want Galway to be a city that works well, is attractive and is enjoyable to be in, learning from other cities that have gotten it right. What is necessary is a more comprehensive and holistic approach that takes into account the interplay of land use, settlement (buildings) and transport in city planning. Galway could become known as the city that transformed itself and be an example for other small cities around the world to learn from and emulate. Greater civic engagement and public participation should be encouraged in forming planning decisions.
-Accessibility for all: To be a more inclusive city, Galway’s public services, transport, buildings and streetscapes should be accessible to all (regardless of age, size or disability). This will improve people’s quality of life and give greater independence.
– A sense of place: Although many changes are needed to make the city sustainable, the positive aspects of Galway’s unique sense of place should be maintained, especially those aspects of Galway’s unique urban quality that we all enjoy such as the medieval city centre and the Salthill Promenade.
– A human-friendly city: Designing and building a city that has people-friendly streets and spaces – that is enjoyable and creates pleasure for locals and visitors. A human-scale city is required that is neither high-rise nor sprawling and which takes into account people’s need for social interaction, feeling safe, access to natural light, a sense of enclosure, a diversity of experiences, etc.
– Nature in the city: Trees, plants, landscaping, water (the river, canals, Lough Corrib, ponds, fountains, etc.), wildlife and other elements of the natural world need to be integrated into how we remake Galway.
– More well-designed and maintained public spaces: Increasing the public realm and quality public spaces (streets, plazas, parks, playgrounds, walkways, river banks, public buildings, etc.) throughout the city that can be used all year round for many different activities by everybody. The conversion of a former surface car park into a vibrant plaza at Spanish Parade, in front of the Spanish Arch is a good example of this.
– Pedestrianisation: The pedestrianisation of Galway city centre (Shop Street, Quay Street, etc.) has been a tremendous success. More streets in Galway could be fully pedestrianised. A car-free day on certain streets could be implemented as an experiment to see what the effects would be of closing these streets to traffic. Even if it was deemed unsuccessful, after full pedestrianisation, car traffic could be reinstated quite easily. Some streets could also be part-pedestrianised or have traffic calming measures introduced (widening pavements, speed bumps, road surface changes, etc.) to make it more comfortable for people.
– Cultivate vibrancy: Life and activity attracts us to an urban area. When streets and other public spaces have life and activity, they are more enjoyable, more interesting and people feel safer. Outdoor café seating, street entertainers, parades, a variety of street level shops, narrow pedestrianised streets, mixed-use zoning, greater building densities, nearby housing are just some of the many elements that contribute to a lively public realm.
– Quality architecture: Higher standards of building design and construction with good detailing and materials. New types and forms of buildings to be encouraged.
– Conservation and renovation of historical buildings: Our architectural heritage should be conserved and, where appropriate, older buildings should be incorporated into new developments. These buildings have important historical value and can also add richness and variety.
– Street furniture: Comfortable and well-located street benches and chairs could be installed to encourage people to linger and congregate in public areas.
– Rejuvenation of buildings, streets and districts: This can provide new amenities and help revitalise a place. Retrofitting suburban areas may prove more challenging but there are creative examples from other cities such as: the transformation of a shopping centre into a community centre and housing; the retrofitting of a large shop into a library; car parking lots converted into thriving wetlands; suburban office buildings being changed into housing; and even strip malls transformed into schools. Some radical thinking and changes in planning practice may be required.
– A better balance between pedestrians, cyclists, public transport and cars: The adverse impact of excessive car-use and car orientated planning needs to be reversed.
– Good quality materials: It is not just our buildings that need to be constructed from quality (local, whenever possible) materials but so should all of the other components that make up urban fabric such as paving, street furniture, railings, bollards, signage, street lighting, etc. Quality materials not only last but they also add to a more pleasant urban environment.
– Create neighbourhoods: Well-designed neighbourhoods offer a sense of place and foster attachment and belonging in those who live in them.
– Suburban district centres: This involves creating district centres in the suburbs similar to the main street in Salthill. See ‘New Suburban Village District Centres’ in the ‘Infrastructure’ section for more information.
– Mixed-use planning: This is having a variety of functions within a building, on a street or within a district. See ‘Mixed-Use Planning’ solution in the ‘Infrastructure’ section for more information.
‘Galway: A Sense of Place’ (book) by Roddy Mannion
SPUR (formerly known as San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association), California, USA
‘The Human Scale’ (film)
New Urbanism, Alexandria, Virginia, USA
Center for the Living City, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
Project for Public Spaces (PPS), New York, USA
Strøget, Copenhagen, Denmark
Retrofitting Suburbia (book by Ellen Dunham-Jones and June Williamson)
Centre for Excellence in Universal Design, 25 Clyde Road, Dublin 4