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The quality of the urban environment derives from various interventions and policy decisions over time and reflects the collective work of multiple stakeholders – public, private and community.

While European cities have developed sophisticated laws and regulations (‘hard power’) to secure diverse public interest objectives through the governance of urban design, the quality of the resulting urban places can be disappointing.  Often outcomes are not aligned with commonly shared objectives such as creating environmental sustainability, human scale, land use mix, conviviality, inclusivity, or supporting cultural meaning.

At its core, the coordination and support action Urban Maestro aimed to understand and encourage innovation in the field of urban design governance through a better understanding of alternative non-regulatory (‘soft power’) approaches and their contribution to the quality of the built environment.

Far from limiting themselves to be simple regulators or even direct investors, many European countries and cities have developed these alternative approaches in order to enhance their ability to intervene as enablers or brokers in urban development. Through these means they have initiated strategies to promote a high-quality built environment, often combining different formal and more innovative informal tools to guide, encourage and enable better design.

For instance, a city may decide to promote quality by supplementing its zoning-based planning system with non-mandatory guidance, by organising architectural competitions, by setting up a process of peer review for design proposals, by instigating temporary urban interventions to demonstrate the potential of particular spaces, or by creating financial incentives linked to achieving certain design or other social objectives. Of these various strategies, financial mechanisms and their relationship to informal tools of urban design governance represent a particular focus of the project. It is hypothesised, for example, that synergies between such tools have the potential to make both approaches more effective in attaining their desired outcomes.

Urban Maestro sought to capture and highlight knowledge about how such initiatives are used in practice, with what purpose, and with what impact on delivering better-designed places. Ultimately, Urban Maestro aimed at contributing to the global urban debate and the realisation of United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by enhancing practices of urban design governance within Europe and beyond.

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The Urban Maestro project used a set of research and learning approaches to gather and capture information about the diverse approaches to urban design governance across Europe: analytical framework, survey, panorama,  case studies, and workshops.

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The scope of Urban Maestro’s investigation was captured and presented on the project’s website, which was structured to serve as a long-term knowledge platform that can be navigated and browsed in a variety of manners (tool-based approach, overall theme, free search by keywords, country-based list, alphabetical order, or a search by the type of documentation).

Project leader (Brussels Bouwmeester Maitre Architecte) - Sigita Simona Paplauskaite

Project leader (UN-Habitat) - Frederic Saliez

Project leader (University College London - Bartlett School of Planning) - Matthew Carmona

BMA, Brussels Bouwmeester Maître Architecte, aims to help clients to ensure the quality of regional public projects in terms of architecture, urban planning, and public space.


UN-Habitat is an Agency of the United Nations which mandate is to promote the development of socially and environmentally sustainable human settlements and to achieve adequate shelter for all. UN-Habitat is the coordinator of Urban Maestro project. UN-Habitat is the coordinator of Urban Maestro project.

UCL has a global reputation for excellence in research; the Bartlett School of Planning is one of the UK’s major centers for research into the built environment and planning, and one of the leaders internationally in the field.

This project received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 831074.

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