New governance strategies
for Urban Design

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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 interventions and policy decisions over time and reflects the collective work of multiple stakeholders – public, private and community.

While European cities have developed sophisticated laws and regulations (‘hard power’) to secure diverse public interest objectives through the governance of urban design, the quality of the resulting urban places can be disappointing.  Often outcomes are not aligned with commonly shared objectives such as creating environmental sustainability, human scale, land use mix, conviviality, inclusivity, or supporting cultural meaning.

At its core, the coordination and support action Urban Maestro aims to understand and encourage innovation in the field of urban design governance through a better understanding of alternative non-regulatory (‘soft power’) approaches and their contribution to the quality of the built environment.

Far from limiting themselves to be simple regulators or even direct investors, many European countries and cities have developed these alternative approaches in order to enhance their ability to intervene as enablers or brokers in urban development. Through these means they have initiated strategies to promote a high-quality built environment, often combining different formal and more innovative informal tools to guide, encourage and enable better design.

For instance, a city may decide to promote quality by supplementing its zoning-based planning system with non-mandatory guidance, by organising architectural competitions, by setting up a process of peer review for design proposals, by instigating temporary urban interventions to demonstrate the potential of particular spaces, or by creating financial incentives linked to achieving certain design or other social objectives. Of these various strategies, financial mechanisms and their relationship to informal tools of urban design governance represent a particular focus of the project. It is hypothesised, for example, that synergies between such tools have the potential to make both approaches more effective in attaining their desired outcomes.

Urban Maestro aims to capture and highlight knowledge about how such initiatives are used in practice, with what purpose, and with what impact on delivering better-designed places. Ultimately, Urban Maestro expects to contribute to the global urban debate and the realisation of United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by enhancing practices of urban design governance within Europe and beyond.

The project

Urban Maestro was launched in 2019 by three partners: the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), the Brussels Bouwmeester Maître Architecte (BMA) and the University College London (UCL). It 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.