New governance strategies
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About Urban Maestro

New Governance Strategies for Urban Design

What is Urban Maestro about?

The quality of the urban environment derives from various projects, interventions, and policy decisions over time. They are the collective work of multiple stakeholders – public, private, and community – but are not always of a quality that we would aspire to see.  

 While European cities have developed sophisticated laws and regulations for urban planning and design, the quality of resulting urban places can be disappointing and often not aligned with commonly shared objectives such as creating environmental sustainability, human scale, land use efficiency, conviviality, inclusivity or supporting cultural meaning. 

 At its core, the Urban Maestro project aims to diversify and innovate the field of urban design governance through a better understanding of alternative non-regulatory approaches and their contribution to the quality of the built environment. These strategies often combine different informal tools to guide, encourage, and enable better design, and, although often empowered or established by public authorities, they are much softer in their nature. 

 The project seeks to map out and document innovative solutions that have been developed and tested across Europe, and that proved successful in promoting high-quality in the built environment. It focuses on examples where the public authorities make use of “soft-power” modalities instead or along with the blunt regulations, acting as enablers or brokers in urban development, rather than as regulators or direct investors. 

 We have noticed that many European countries and cities often apply these informal tools in innovative ways, proving them to be effective and applicable in different contexts. Urban Maestro aims to capture and highlight the knowledge of how these initiatives were put in practice, with what purpose, and what impact they have had on delivering better-designed places. 

The project

Urban Maestro was launched in 2019 as a unique research project and is led by three partners, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), the Bouwmeester Maître Architecte of Brussels (BMA) and the University College of London (UCL), and is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.

To structure the analysis and build a common understanding, the Urban Maestro team developed an analytical framework and a typology of the tools available to public authorities in order to positively influence the outcomes of the design processes.

Urban Maestro conducted a survey to map out and understand the current landscape of policies and urban design governance practices across Europe. The Urban Maestro team and its project advisors have explored other examples through research and live exchanges at events. We are constantly on the lookout for new examples, and external contributions are always welcome through the dedicated “Submissions” page.

Through a series of pan-European workshops, these practices are discussed and analysed in detail, allowing participants to learn, share ideas and co-create policy recommendations. Participation in the workshops is open to all interested stakeholders and announced through the project’s website, social media, and newsletter.

The results of Urban Maestro are made available through this website, which is intended to serve as a knowledge platform as well as a participatory tool: you can contribute to Urban Maestro’s research by suggesting innovative practices, providing complementary information or sharing ideas through our email contact.

Urban Maestro team

UN-Habitat is an Agency of the United Nations which mandate is to promote the development of socially and environmentally sustainable human settlements and to achieve adequate shelter for all. UN-Habitat is the coordinator of Urban Maestro project. UN-Habitat is the coordinator of Urban Maestro project.

BMA, Brussels Bouwmeester Maître Architecte, aims to help clients to ensure the quality of regional public projects in terms of architecture, urban planning, and public space.

UCL has a global reputation for excellence in research; the Bartlett School of Planning is one of the UK’s major centers for research into the built environment and planning, and one of the leaders internationally in the field.


Urban Maestro partners & contributors

Urban Maestro is a collaborative project that has the active support of a wide number of persons and institutions, who are committed to improve the quality of urban places. Beyond the project team, the list below contains the institutions and individuals who have contributed to the project by providing inputs, time or energy to its realization.