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Mayors' Institute: Ten Secrets of Urban Design

It starts with parking:

You have enough already!

That was the first of "Ten Secrets of Urban Design (that we would not ordinarily tell the mayor)," which Dennis Frenchman, professor of the practice of urban design at MIT, nonetheless did share at the Northeast Mayors' Institute of City Design held at MIT in early December. "People don't want to come to the city to look at parking … They want a sense of place, they want density of activity, maybe even a little congestion!"

Other secrets Frenchman shared include:

Looks count: "A good city image is essential to keeping up the value of your town."

The old is generally better than the new: With school construction standards skewed toward suburban-type buildings, "we find cities demolishing fabulous old schools while building faceless new ones on precious parkland."

Sometimes, though, the new is better than the old: "If someone offers you something like the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao--run for the bulldozers."

You don't have to roll over for developers: "A better strategy would be to tell them what you want--up front. Most reputable developers are willing to work with a community if its design goals and objectives are clear."

But you should get developers involved.

Put a planner in charge of planning: "In addition to a deal maker, you may need an idea person, a leader in rethinking, reformulating, repackaging the city," Frenchman said.

Put some pie in the sky: Every city needs a vision of its own future, he added. "I would urge you to get as many people involved as possible in creating this vision."

You can't afford not to have good urban design: "The form and environment of your city--a form built over generations -- is the greatest asset that you have."

And secret No. 1 in this Letterman-style countdown:

There are no secrets to urban design: "When you hear someone hawking a universal approach to urban design, beware ... You must find your own approach to the design of your city."

- Ruth Walker

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