Urban Design

Urban designer sketching ideas to improve a street

Urban designers at the Department of City Planning (DCP) use a range of tools and practices, including visioning, public engagement and concept development.


Sketch of people in a park surrounded by water and buildings

As part of the agency’s initiatives, DCP urban designers and planners set out to gain a deep understanding of a neighborhood or development site through a process called “visioning.” We start by researching its history, observing how people use the space and talking directly to the people who live and work there. We use sketching, drawings and photographs to document what we’ve seen and heard.

Visioning allows us to anticipate the look and feel of future improvements of a place. It involves multiple engagement sessions with community members. The goal is to build a shared vision for the future of the area, by working together to understand current conditions, set goals and test design strategies.

During the visioning process, urban designers consider a project’s long-term effects, such as new affordable housing, access to green space, access to jobs and climate resilience.


DCP collaborates with communities to understand the important features and needs of any given neighborhood. We develop outreach activities, 3D models, interactive tools, community design workshops and visioning sessions. Together, these approaches tap into residents’ imaginations about the future of their neighborhoods, which inform the agency’s Neighborhood Initiatives.

Urban designers at DCP collaborate with colleagues and partners to create public engagement exercises and tools to facilitate people’s participation in the planning process and make it easier for anyone to understand the City’s regulations and codes.


Urban designers research trends in design thinking, specific design challenges and patterns in the way New Yorkers live and work. To conduct this research, urban designers often visit and observe streets, buildings, parks and other areas of the public realm. The goal is to understand how people use these spaces, how they make us feel and how they contribute to our experience of the city.

The research informs everything from Neighborhood Initiatives to land use changes and citywide policies, such as how to activate public spaces under elevated train lines, or trends in modern office space design.


Urban design principles help shape NYC Zoning Resolution regulations that have a positive impact on the spaces we move through every day—from streets that are comfortable and pleasant to walk along, to architecture that contributes to each neighborhood’s character.

For example, the Zoning Resolution allows for building shapes that provide sunshine on adjacent streets. It allows for lively ground floors on certain commercial streets. In short, it allows for changes to New York City’s streetscape and public realm that meet the standards of good urban design.


People gathered under a shade structure on the waterfront

DCP works closely with communities and other City agencies to provide design support and feedback. In addition, the agency provides design guidance to property owners pursuing land use actions.

Design guidance, like visioning, is an iterative process involving multiple sessions with design teams and stakeholders. DCP’s urban designers seek to understand a project’s goals and weigh design strategies to understand how they would affect the surrounding neighborhood. This process enables proposals to achieve their individual goals while contributing positively to our shared experience of the city.

DCP sometimes issues urban design guidelines that can serve as go-to references for communities, designers and developers. These guidelines provide critical design framework to long-term development projects and give shape to an underlying vision for an area.