Design-led city-making emerged as a response to the failings of the urban engineering paradigm. Places were so focussed on functionality that they lost all meaning and we only optimised for a narrow range of uses. Many cities are suffering from the impacts of this paradigm.
Designers have begun adding meaning and quality back into cities. Yet, it’s a costly and slow process to reverse the damage caused by urban engineering. Professional design consultancies are competent in making well-designed, functional places with beautiful aesthetics. Yet, often the degree of people-friendlyness appears to depend on a designer's focus or passion, and the client's preferences and brief.
Sometimes, lay-people summarise the short-comings as a ‘lack of soul’. A common criticism is that these places can feel too sterile, but when they're done well (such as Sydney's Goods Line or NYC's High Line) people use them in great numbers. Sometimes design-led projects include prototyping but the focus may be on materials testing or the planting palette. These designers want to make something that lasts.
Design-led projects tend to be larger and require greater resources and longer timeframes to implement. This leads to the feeling that they're too slow, and become out of touch as the context changes quickly around them. In addition, large projects are politically fragile and can become first on the chopping block when an administration changes despite the waste of resources by scrapping years of planning, design, and community goodwill.
The dynamics of built masterplanned projects leads to new places needing ongoing nurturing to ensure long term success. This is place management and by layering experiences over time, truly amazing destinations can be developed as the details and fine grain character of a place begin to complement each other.