Urban design and urban life quality

Under the course description of "Urban Design: City-Building and Place-Making"at University California, Berkeley, urban design is explained as follows:

„The discipline of urban design is concerned with notions of the “good city." It is concerned with how urban environments work for people and support human needs, how physical designs may facilitate or hinder human behavior, how cities look, and what cities mean. It is concerned foremost with environmental quality, measured in many ways but particularly in terms of access, connectivity, comfort, legibility, and sense of place. “

This statement supports the idea that urban design is strongly linked to life quality. Like urban design, there is no universally accepted definition of quality of life (QoL). The term was first used in USA in the post-war period and later was adopted by many fields such as education, health and, economic and industrial growth (Carr et al., 1996). Despite the technological development and increased income levels, it has been recognized that quality of life cannot be measured through material wealth (Pacione, 2003). According to United Nation’s Environment Glossary (1997) the term is defined as the "notion of human welfare (well-being) measured by social indicators rather than by "quantitative" measures of income and production". Meanwhile World Health Organization’s (1996) definition of quality of life is more comprehensive and as follows:

"an individual’s perception of their position in life in the context of the culture and value systems in which they live and in relation to their goals, expectations, standards and concerns".

QoL analyses can be a useful tool for identifying design goals and developing strategies in urban design. On the other hand, measuring QoL and development of quality indexes are challenging processes since they encompass many dimensions (e. g. economic, social, health, subjective, environmental etc.). Livability and sustainability are two basic concepts related to urban life quality. Livability of an urban environment is determined by physical environment as well as social environment conditions, hence urban life quality is a result of two kinds of input; physical/objective and psychological/subjective (Yildiz Turgut, 2007). For this reason, livability and consequently urban quality indicators might vary from one city to another. Parfect & Power (1997) suggest a situation assessment where weaknesses, deficiencies, inherent strengths and advantages are identified before identifying urban quality in urban design. Such an assessment could help to determine the priorities and deficiencies in urban development strategies and policies in both national and local context. Determination of priorities is also important in terms of finance, since cost of urban development is generally very high. As an example; United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U. S. Department of Transportation (DOT) have formed a partnership to coordinate decision and policy making efforts in housing, transportation and energy efficiency. In 2009 the partnership identified six livability principles to guide the federal investments. Developing such principles regarding both natural and cultural values could be useful and guiding in urban design. The principles are as follows:

• Provide more transportation choices: Develop safe, reliable, and economical transportation choices to decrease household transportation costs, reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign oil, improve air quality, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and promote public health.

• Promote equitable, affordable housing: Expand location- and energy-efficient housing choices for people of all ages, incomes, races, and ethnicities to increase mobility and lower the combined cost of housing and transportation.

• Enhance economic competitiveness: Improve economic competitiveness through reliable and timely access to employment centers, educational opportunities, services and other basic needs by workers, as well as expanded business access to markets.

• Support existing communities: Target federal funding toward existing communities — through strategies like transit oriented, mixed-use development, and land recycling — to increase community revitalization and the efficiency of public works investments and safeguard rural landscapes.

• Coordinate and leverage federal policies and investment: Align federal policies and funding to remove barriers to collaboration, leverage funding, and increase the accountability and effectiveness of all levels of government to plan for future growth, including making smart energy choices such as locally generated renewable energy

• Value communities and neighborhoods: Enhance the unique characteristics of all communities by investing in healthy, safe, and walkable neighborhoods — rural, urban, or suburban.

Livability principles are strongly related to the concept of sustainability. The environmental damage caused by urbanization is in the heart of sustainability debates. It has become a key issue in development after The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in 1992, which expressed the concerns for the future of the environment in global scale. Agenda 21 is one of the resulting documents of this conference. It is an action plan and comprises four main sections; (i) social and economic dimensions, (ii) conservation and management of resources for development, (iii) strengthening the role of major groups, and (iv) means of implementation which include detailed policies for sustainable development. Agenda 21, as a tool, emphasizes the importance of local participation in decision making and implementation processes. Besides, local participation is also necessary to find out psychological/subjective indicators for urban quality.

It is generally implied that the dynamics and rhythm of urban life decreases the life quality of citizens in many aspects. Contemporary urban lifestyles are fast paced and exhausting for many. Despite the fact that cities are the hearts of economic growth and cultural diversity, citizens might experience difficulties in enjoying the amenities of a city in context of time and space. During our busy daily schedule, mainly between work and home, we hardly find time to ourselves. When we have some spare time, we seek to enjoy what the city offers to us. On the other hand cities are densely built and populated environments which causes the feeling of "lost in space". People want to access and circulate through their living environments easily. Furthermore they need places where they can escape the stressful rhythm of urban life. This is where landscape architecture takes the leading role; design of open and green spaces to provide livable and accessible outdoor environments, as well as to support urban ecology. Further benefits of urban landscape, that affects the urban life quality, will be explained in the next section.