10 Principles of SOM's City Design Practice

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City Design Practice:
10 Principles

As urban designers, we are inspired by the challenges of reinventing the world's cities for this century, with the understanding that all things, manmade and natural, are connected. We design with these 10 global challenges in mind.

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Designing for People

Creating healthy cities is our central challenge in the 21st century. With holistic environmental design, we can achieve livability in the broadest sense. People need routine access to nature. They also need their surroundings to resonate with local culture and its distinctive aesthetic. Cities should provide convenient, sustainable neighborhoods that feel like home.

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Enhancing Competitiveness

To be competitive in the knowledge economy, cities must provide a high quality of life. Top talent is attracted by good schools, neighborhood parks and retail, and quick access to business districts and airports. The economy of the future—smart, efficient, innovative, and collaborative—is being invented in cities with diverse social interaction.

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Nature is the Best Designer

Today we are faced with the challenge of repairing and integrating natural systems. Respect for broader ecosystems is the wisest strategy for designing value-added, durable urban frameworks. Restoring the Earth while accommodating population growth will be our 21st-century focus.

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Feeding Our City

Urban sprawl is destroying limited farmland that sustains city life. We can better manage regional population growth by redeveloping the urban core and preserving farmlands. Improved farming methods can increase productivity while causing less damage to the environment.

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Living Without a Car

Gridlock of personal automobiles is not the way forward. To keep up with the pace of advancements in transportation technology and to support active lifestyles, we need innovative mobility strategies. Easily accessible public transit, smaller city blocks, compact walkable neighborhoods and business districts—all of these characteristics should define our future cities.

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Eliminating the Concept

Environmental and economic challenges dictate moving beyond a disposable economy and eliminating the concept of waste. Partially used materials, once-used water, and unrecovered energy contain embedded resources to be tapped by reuse techniques and technologies. Circular resource strategies will help to sustain an urbanizing planet.

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Valuing Every Drop

Clean fresh water is scarce and getting scarcer. Our urban areas and agricultural infrastructure today continue to pollute our water sources. Future cities must capture and naturally cleanse stormwater to replenish water tables, rivers, and lakes and to reduce the need for desalination. Onsite wastewater treatment can nurture our landscape and supply potable water.

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Planning for Climate Change

Climate change threatens cities with weather events of increasing severity, frequency, and magnitude. Ecosystem resiliency planning is needed at the regional level. Cities will need to set aside regional greenbelts for mitigating massive storm events and reestablish systems that once protected shorelines. Cities and urban districts must be equipped to recover quickly with minimal losses.

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Focusing on Efficiency

Around the world, power is still mainly produced by carbon combustion. Dramatic economic and environmental benefits will come from the necessary transition from carbon burning to generating energy from renewable sources. Accessing renewable energy is our challenge. Energy-efficient city designs will enable us all to do more with far less.

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Honoring Local Culture

Envisioning the future begins with an informed understanding of the past. Our approach leverages a community’s cultural capital in ways that expand on its story of place. Local traditions and heritage help guide our analytical and holistic approach to city design.