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Urban Planning and Design Lab

  LAB Launched in 2014, UN-HABITAT’s Urban Planning and Design LAB proposes and implements urban planning projects from neighborhood to city-wide scale worldwide. The LAB supports local, regional and national authorities to implement policies, plans and designs through participatory planning processes for more compact, better integrated and connected cities that foster equitable sustainable urban development and are resilient to climate change. Many cities in the developing world struggle with managing the explosive growth of their populations and built-up areas. The LAB was created as a response to the growing demand from local, regional and national governments for assistance in sustainable urban planning.

It translates UN-HABITAT’s sustainable urban planning principles into practice by developing plans and designs that can be implemented locally. It also enhances the implementation of these plans and designs by linking the legal, financial and planning instruments Furthermore the LAB engages in the process design that helps to leverage political commitment. The LAB is an integrative facility that, with a clear project oriented approach, integrates a variety of knowledge such as legal, economic urban planning and design expertise and also brings together governments, specialists and UN agencies around urban interventions.

The LAB has a network of highly skilled planners that work locally and also collaborates with global planning institutes and private partners. Its planning philosophy is that good planning should always include a design, legal, and economic component, in a so-called ‘Three-Pronged Approach’. The integrated approach of the LAB is aimed at implementation. By developing plans, the LAB explores applicable financing models that can tap into international, national and private sector resources. The Lab has created an international portfolio and practical experience that allows for comparison and normative assessment of applied planning tools, methodologies and processes in different local conditions. It is also involved in reviewing documents at the request of local, regional and national governments, resulting in quick, high-impact responses to legal planning documents that are under development.

Design Process

The design process is a key component in the work of the LAB. In many contexts, design arrives at the end of the planning process, after all the problems have exhaustively been described. The LAB promotes to integrate design throughout the whole planning process, since design explorations can actually also contribute to problem definition and the formulation of goals. Doing so, it replaces the sequential planning process with an iterative planning process in which plans are developed, tested and improved. This provides space for all sorts of stakeholders to contribute and participate in a process focused on implementation. Furthermore, the LAB’s emphasis on clear and understandable plans ease political buy-in and can accelerate governments’ decision-making processes where plans often end up in gridlock.


So far, the LAB successfully supported urban planning in various cities around the globe. The LAB is currently assisting the development of the Johannesburg’s Spatial Development Framework 2040, due for finalization in 2015. The LAB has also prepared concept plans for Planned City Extensions for Silay, Iloilo and Cagayan de Oro in the Philippines, Santa Marta (Colombia), Kisumu (Kenya), Ningo-Prampram (Ghana), urban renewal in La Candelaria in Medellin (Colombia) and the LAB developed Urban Planning Guidelines for the Union of Myanmar already applied in the city of Kalay and Pyay. The LAB often collaborates with other planning agencies. With the Guangzhou Planning Institute for example, it developed the new District Plan for Wuzhou in China and Planned City Extensions in Nyagatare and Rubavu (Rwanda). Generally, the LAB uses four strategies to address urban growth:

  1. City-Wide Strategies
  2. Planned City Infills
  3. Planned City Extensions
  4. Urban Renewal
  5. Trainings and Guidelines

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