In this lecture Matthew Carmona, from the Bartlett, University College London, introduces the idea that how we shape places through the governance of urban design has a direct impact on their place value – the health, social, economic and environmental value they return.


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Issues which the lecture addresses

The quality of places can be measured by the value they return to communities, in health, social, economic and environmental terms. Research evidence globally tells us that this ‘place value’ is shaped by how places are designed and that well designed places are fundamentally good for us. Achieving this in the face of short-term development, market, political and social pressures is not always easy, but research suggests that the governance of urban design is critical. This does not necessarily imply the use of more and tougher formal regulatory mechanisms, but instead the use of informal tools using the soft powers of the state.


Short analysis of the above issues 

UN Habitat’s own research shows us that well-designed cities are socially richer, environmentally kinder and economically more productive. Despite the evidence, we continue to shape cities to meet short term goals, rather than the long-term sustainable needs of people and planet. The immediate reaction may be that we need to regulate and control more, but, as well as being expensive to enact, the top-down imposition of crude controls has actually been behind many of the patterns of development that undermine, rather than deliver, place value. What is needed are place specific interventions that shape a positive environment for good design in a proactive and intelligent manner – encouraging, engaging and enabling, rather than imposing crude controls from above.


Propositions for addressing the issue

The lecture advances four propositions and ground each in examples of practice. First, place value is fundamental to the well-being of citizens. Second, place value is not delivered by chance, but requires careful and intelligent shaping of the built environment. Third, this shaping happens all the time – it is nothing new – but more often than not we seem to get it wrong, shaping unsustainable rather than sustainable design outcomes. Fourth, we need to try something new, moving toward the informal tools and soft powers that can help to shape market and state forces in a proactive and positive manner. These informal tools of urban design governance have the potential to be used globally.



Matthew Carmona is Professor of Planning and Urban Design at The Bartlett, UCL. He is an architect and planner researching design governance, public spaces, and the value of urban design. He chairs the Place Alliance and edits His research can be found at



Carmona M (2019) Place Value: Place quality and its impact on health, social, economic and environmental outcomes, Journal of Urban Design, 24(1): 1-48
Carmona M (2017) “The formal and informal tools of design governance” Journal of Urban Design, 22(1): 1-36

Carmona M (2016) “Design governance: theorising an urban design sub-field” Journal of Urban Design, 21(6): 705-730
Carmona M (2014) “The Place-shaping Continuum: A Theory of Urban Design Process” Journal of Urban Design, 19(1): 2-36

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