6 Examples of Urban Design Projects to Inspire Sustainable City Planning

Innovative urban design has had an enormous impact on communities, providing a new and improved quality of life. Designs can include anything from community gardens to bridges, creating space for recreational activities that have been lost in the hustle and bustle of city life, redeveloping existing infrastructure, and more.

Such projects have transformed communities in diverse ways by improving the physical environment, providing social services and amenities, and promoting economic development.

Here are six innovative urban design projects that have transformed communities, and one that has transformed an entire city.

  1. Creating a village within a city

Southtown Redevelopment Plan, Birmingham, Alabama

It is possible to deliver a neighborhood redesign that transforms a community. Step one? Engage the community in its design. This is what is happening in Birmingham, Alabama, where the community has been involved in the planning and design of a ground-breaking mixed-development public housing project to the south of the city’s downtown.

A total of approximately 450 mixed-income homes are included in the master plan. 200 of these will replace existing public housing. But this is not all. The community will benefit from job and business opportunities on its doorstep, with almost a million square feet of office and commercial space. This includes amenities such as a new grocery store, restaurants and bars, and other retail.

The planners have recognized the need for rest and relaxation, too. More than four acres are set aside to provide green spaces such as a public park, a pedestrian-friendly boulevard, and a courtyard. A place to play and meet.

The location also allows residents to take advantage of employment opportunities at the nearby hospital and university.

  1. Creating an affordable and self-sufficient neighborhood

Garfield Green, Chicago

A work in progress, Garfield Green is being created on two vacant lots near employment and business locations in Chicago. The community will be engaged in design. Phase 1 will deliver apartments for people on low incomes, and deliver retail and green space A restaurant is also on the cards, as well as a  market.

The location is perfect to provide easy transit options for residents and businesses, meaning that residents can take advantage of employment opportunities across the city.

The building will run on renewable energy, provided largely by solar panels, and a green roof will allow residents to grow their own fruit and vegetables as well as take advantage of processed stormwater onsite. Construction will be carried out using a local modular building factory, reducing disruption, and accelerating construction time.

  1. Neighborhood transition with mixed development

Cleveland Warehouse District, Cleveland, Ohio

Take vacant land. Be creative. Think economic development.

This is what has helped to transform Cleveland’s Warehouse District into a thriving, fully functioning, and welcoming destination for people and businesses. The derelict and neglected land is now home to 1,300 homes, 100,000 square feet of retail, and 300,000 square feet of offices. 

The space has been used to create a sense of place, too. There are public plazas, ‘outdoor rooms’, and plenty of community amenities included here.

This once empty space is now thriving and growing. Further development is taking place. More offices and commerce are being added. There are more homes to come. A place of beauty and business has been and continues to be, created from a decrepit blank canvas.

  1. From industrialization to relaxation

Gas Works Park in Seattle, Washington, USA

An area in Seattle, once filled with smog, then falling into dereliction, has been transformed into a favorite meeting place for residents and visitors to the city.

Where once existed ran-down and ramshackle factories in the 1900s, there is now a green and pleasant oasis. Gone are the dangerous buildings. In their place, we find rolling hills and green fields, innovatively reclaimed from polluted soil. 

But the park’s industrial past has not been completely left behind. It has been thinned out, and now there exists a homage to the past for us today. The boiler house has been converted to a picnic shelter complete with tables and fire grills, while a former exhauster-compressor building was transformed into an open-air play barn, housing a maze of brightly painted machinery for children.

Registered in the National Register of Historic Places in 2013, Gas Works Park is now a destination for families, groups, and schools.

  1. From workhouse to working-class affordable housing

Millworks Lofts, Minneapolis, Minnesota

What do you think of when you hear ‘warehouse conversion’? High-end, luxury apartments, and lofts out of the reach of ordinary folk?

At Millworks Lofts, you’ll find the luxury conversion you might expect at a price you certainly wouldn’t. 75 units of affordable housing have been created in this conversion project, with easy transit options to downtown.

Interiors were refurbished, retaining many of the original features. The elevator shaft has become a light well. The clubroom is a community space. LED lighting and geothermal heating reduce the energy bill by around 40%.

In close proximity to boutique and family-owned stores and restaurants, each home is spacious and furnished with modern finishes. There is a rooftop deck to take in the evening air.

This is a project that demonstrates that old, unused industrial buildings can be transformed into luxurious homes that are affordable to those on modest and low incomes. 

  1. From rust-belt city to a sustainable economy

The Chattanooga Way

Never mind transforming neighborhoods. With innovative thinking, an engaged community, and a determination to build back better, it is possible to transform and recreate entire cities.

Chattanooga remains the only city to have lost 10% of its population in the 1980s and then regain the same amount over the following 20 years. The strategy that allowed this to happen has been dubbed the Chattanooga Way.

What is the Chattanooga Way? It’s a unique way of working. It relies on engaging the public in decision-making, addressing the most difficult issues with innovative thinking, respecting the environment, and committing to creating a higher quality of life for all residents and future generations.

Disused, rusting, derelict factories were replaced by commercial and residential. There is an eight-mile greenway, of a total of 75 miles of networked greenways and trails. Where once there were a couple of dozen businesses, there are now more than 120. 

All this development has taken place to integrate the community and economy sustainably. It includes an electric shuttle bus and 154 hectares of the redevelopment of brownfields. Investment has been made in social capital, environmental projects, and economic wellbeing. Long-term thinking and long-term investment, as well as community involvement, have been key to success.

Innovative urban design projects ─ creating sustainable communities

We are living in a world of rapid urbanization. The emerging megacities are not only characterized by their size and population, but also by the speed at which they grow. There is a need to design sustainable communities that can accommodate the needs of the growing population while ensuring that they are livable and healthy.

There are many innovative projects happening in the urban design field. The most innovative ways of designing sustainable communities are being implemented, and modern design approaches are being developed every day ─ enabling us to create neighborhoods, towns, and cities that are environmentally friendly, socially inclusive, and economically sustainable.

These are a few examples of what can be achieved. 

At ACB Consulting, we are committed to helping improve the communities in which we live, work, and play – including how they are conceived, designed, and created. To leverage our experience in sustainable design and construction, contact ACB Consulting.

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