Urban Design

Illustration of people walking under elevated train tracks

As we move through a city, our surroundings play an essential role in our quality of life. Our streets, buildings, plazas and other shared spaces—which collectively make up the “public realm”—help determine the city’s livability, comfort and enjoyment.

Urban design focuses on how the elements of the public realm can be built and arranged to create a positive experience for everyone. Everything from the shape of buildings to the location of benches on sidewalks are important urban design elements.

In New York City, principles of good urban design inform the City’s zoning regulations as well as the public review process for changes to zoning that facilitate new developments. Department of City Planning (DCP) urban designers help shape regulations and provide guidance so that new buildings or public spaces contribute positively to their surrounding communities.

Urban Design Principles

View from above of a tree lined block


Create and reinforce the sense of place and character of a neighborhood.

Kids playing in a water feature at an outdoor plaza


Ensure that our public spaces are accessible to and enjoyable for all.

Decoration on a residential stoop’s hand railing


Design with care and pay attention to details at every step in the process.

People sitting on a bench laughing together


Ensure that our public realm is comfortable and feels safe to all.

The urban design principles of place, equity, detail and comfort are applied across all of DCP’s work. They help shape zoning regulations and neighborhood planning initiatives, they inform the design of buildings and the public spaces around them and they guide future development to improve peoples’ experiences of the city.

These principles are also intended to guide community members, elected officials, property owners and anyone working to build and maintain our public realm. They encourage and support efforts to expand, protect and promote the livability and vitality of our neighborhoods, and of the city overall.