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The Problem with Thinking about or for Urban Design

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This paper is concerned with the interface between urban design as a practical, applied and ultimately creative activity, and the nature of the knowledge produced to support urban designers in their work. A distinction is being drawn between thinking about urban design and its resulting urban forms and normative thinking for urban design. The paper argues that thinking about urban design might usefully be informed by social science methods, but that the conclusions from such work must be in some ways limited to the applied field. Thinking for urban design, however, must embrace the wicked nature of urban design problems, and the interpretive and political nature of how we come to judge built form solutions. Research for urban design might therefore embrace methods and practices employed in the arts and humanities just as legitimately as those adopted in the social sciences. Similarly, assessments of research outputs produced within a tradition of urban design must adequately account for the nature of the field and its practices.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Cardiff University, School of City and Regional Planning, Cardiff, UK

Publication date: February 1, 2012

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