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27 Urban Design Elements

 , updated on May 28, 2016
Urban design is the planning and design of cities. It is an interdisciplinary field that involves architecture, urban planning, engineering, arts and technology. The following are a few common elements of a city.


The public, residential, commercial and industrial architecture of a city.


Billboards and other commercial messages can be considered an eyesore and safety issue as they serve as a distraction. They can also be considered a charming feature of a city, depending on context.


A brownfield is a site that is polluted or feared to be polluted due to industrial, military or commercial activity. They are often large parcels of land that represent an opportunity to revitalize an area with features such as public space or urban forests. Brownfields are expensive to develop as they require an environmental clean up.

Blue Elements

Open air water features such as rivers, streams, canals, waterfront parks, harbors, ports, marinas and fountains.

Commercial Signage

Signs in front of shops have a significant impact on the visual appeal of an area.

Cycling Infrastructure

Cycling infrastructure such as bike lanes and cycle highways.

Energy Infrastructure

Energy infrastructure including electrical grids and district heating.

Green Spaces

Green elements such as parks, greenways, gardens, vertical gardens, rain gardens, green walls, green roofs and tree lined streets.

Historical Structures

Preservation and protection of sites of significant architectural and historic value.


The physical features of land such as waterways, fountains, mountains, hills, stairs, valleys, forests and gardens. Often integrates natural features such as trees, engineering components such as levees and cultural aspects such as gardens.


Public lighting such as street lights. Lack of lighting can also be viewed as a feature.


A structure that celebrates or remembers a historical event or person.

Pedestrian Corridors

Features that make a city walkable including sidewalks, trails, pedestrian bridges, underpasses, parks, city squares and superblocks.

Pocket Neighborhoods

Small neighborhoods built around public spaces that are designed to stimulate a sense of community.

Public Art

Art, usually sculpture, that is designed to be displayed in public. In many cases, expensive art selected by experts or by a committee is unpopular to the point of being controversial.

Public Buildings

Buildings such as libraries and museums that are open to the public.

Public Space

Public space provides freedom of movement and places for personal solace, companionship, family and community. Key natural resources such as beaches are usually open to the public as a matter of principle.

Public Transportation

Buses, trams, light rail, passenger trains, rapid transit, ferris and related infrastructure and facilities such as stations.


Roofs are a resource that can be used to generate electricity, grow food, provide green space or offer appealing commercial attractions such as rooftop cafes.


A critical component of infrastructure for some cities. Historically many seawalls were expensive, high maintenance eyesores that obstructed recreation and commercial use of waterfront areas. There is recent interest in improving designs to be useful, natural, obstructive and resilient.

Street Furniture

Benches, waste receptacles, post boxes, information kiosks and other features designed to be useful in public spaces.

Transportation Infrastructure

Roads, railways, bridges, tunnels, airports, train stations, sidewalks, canals and other transportation infrastructure. Includes traffic safety infrastructure such as traffic lights, pedestrian islands and speed bumps.

Urban Forests

Forests, forest parks, wilderness preserves and other large groupings of trees.

Urban Technology

Technology services related to the operation of transportation or city infrastructure. Basic connectivity such as wifi is also increasingly seen as a city service.

Urban Villages

Mixed use developments that locate offices, shopping, residences, entertainment, medical services, public spaces and public buildings within close proximity. Creates a sense that you could live your entire life within a neighborhood.

Vernacular Architecture

Architecture that reflects local culture, identity and character.

Wet Infrastructure

Infrastructure related to water supply, treatment, resource management, flood prevention, drought management, coastal protection and restoration.


This is the complete list of articles we have written about cities.
Activity Center
Air Rights
Bicycle Boulevard
Blue Space
Business Cluster
City Branding
City Culture
City Issues
Cosmopolitan City
Creeping Normality
Cycling Infra.
Deep Water Cooling
District Heating
Emergent Cities
Fashion Capital
Fashion Week
Genius Loci
Ghost Spaces
Green Facades
Green Roofs
Green Walls
Happiness Index
High-Speed Rail
Human Factors
Human Scale
Induced Traffic
Living Street
Natural Surveillance
Night Architecture
Night Economy
Play Street
Public Infrastructure
Public Space
Quality Of Life
Rain Garden
Resilient Cities
Robot Highways
Slow Cities
Smart Cities
Soft Engineering
Sponge City
Street Canyon
Tactical Urbanism
Transition Design
Urban Agriculture
Urban Density
Urban Design
Urban Planning
Vertical Cities
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Sustainable Urban Design

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