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3 Key urban design qualities - The seven Cs

The Urban Design Protocol identifies seven essential design qualities that create quality urban design: the seven Cs. They are: Context, Character, Choice, Connections, Creativity, Custodianship and Collaboration. These are a combination of design processes and outcomes.

The seven Cs:

  • provide a checklist of qualities that contribute to quality urban design
  • are based on sound urban design principles recognised and demonstrated throughout the world
  • explain these qualities in simple language, providing a common basis for discussing urban issues and objectives
  • provide core concepts to use in urban design projects and policies
  • can be adapted for use in towns and cities throughout New Zealand.


Quality urban design sees buildings, places and spaces not as isolated elements but as part of the whole town or city. For example, a building is connected to its street, the street to its neighbourhood, the neighbourhood to its city, and the city to its region. Urban design has a strong spatial dimension and optimises relationships between buildings, places, spaces, activities and networks. It also recognises that towns and cities are part of a constantly evolving relationship between people, land, culture and the wider environment.

Quality urban design:

  • takes a long-term view
  • recognises and builds on landscape context and character
  • results in buildings and places that are adapted to local climatic conditions
  • examines each project in relation to its setting and ensures that each development fits in with and enhances its surroundings
  • understands the social, cultural and economic context as well as physical elements and relationships
  • considers the impact on the health of the population who live and work there
  • celebrates cultural identity and recognises the heritage values of a place
  • ensures incremental development contributes to an agreed and coherent overall result.

Photo: Heretaunga Street East, Hastings. Photo courtesy of Isthmus Group.

Photo: Mt Victoria , Wellington.


Quality urban design reflects and enhances the distinctive character and culture of our urban environment, and recognises that character is dynamic and evolving, not static. It ensures new buildings and spaces are unique, are appropriate to their location and compliment their historic identity, adding value to our towns and cities by increasing tourism, investment and community pride.

Quality urban design:

  • reflects the unique identity of each town, city and neighbourhood and strengthens the positive characteristics that make each place distinctive
  • protects and manages our heritage, including buildings, places and landscapes
  • protects and enhances distinctive landforms, water bodies and indigenous plants and animals
  • creates locally appropriate and inspiring architecture, spaces and places
  • reflects and celebrates our unique New Zealand culture and identity and celebrates our multi-cultural society.

Photo: West Quay, Waitara. Photo courtesy of Isthmus Group.

Photo: The Bach, Ponsonby Road , Auckland. Photo courtesy of Auckland City Council.


Quality urban design fosters diversity and offers people choice in the urban form of our towns and cities, and choice in densities, building types, transport options, and activities. Flexible and adaptable design provides for unforeseen uses, and creates resilient and robust towns and cities.

Quality urban design:

  • ensures urban environments provide opportunities for all, especially the disadvantaged
  • allows people to choose different sustainable lifestyle options, locations, modes of transport, types of buildings and forms of tenure
  • encourages a diversity of activities within mixed use developments and neighbourhoods
  • supports designs which are flexible and adaptable and which will remain useful over the long term
  • ensures public spaces are accessible by everybody, including people with disabilities.

Photo: Chancery, Auckland. Photo courtesy of Isthmus Group.

Photo: The Strand , Tauranga. Photo courtesy of Tauranga City Council.


Good connections enhance choice, support social cohesion, make places lively and safe, and facilitate contact among people. Quality urban design recognises how all networks - streets, railways, walking and cycling routes, services, infrastructure, and communication networks - connect and support healthy neighbourhoods, towns and cities. Places with good connections between activities and with careful placement of facilities benefit from reduced travel times and lower environmental impacts. Where physical layouts and activity patterns are easily understood, residents and visitors can navigate around the city easily.

Quality urban design:

  • creates safe, attractive and secure pathways and links between centres, landmarks and neighbourhoods
  • facilitates green networks that link public and private open space
  • places a high priority on walking, cycling and public transport
  • anticipates travel demands and provides a sustainable choice of integrated transport modes
  • improves accessibility to public services and facilities
  • treats streets and other thoroughfares as positive spaces with multiple functions
  • provides formal and informal opportunities for social and cultural interaction
  • facilitates access to services and efficient movement of goods and people
  • provides environments that encourage people to become more physically active.

Photo: Transport Interchange, Wellington.

Photo: Britomart Rail Terminal, Auckland. Photo courtesy of Auckland City Council.


Quality urban design encourages creative and innovative approaches. Creativity adds richness and diversity, and turns a functional place into a memorable place. Creativity facilitates new ways of thinking, and willingness to think through problems afresh, to experiment and rewrite rules, to harness new technology, and to visualise new futures. Creative urban design supports a dynamic urban cultural life and fosters strong urban identities.

Quality urban design:

  • emphasises innovative and imaginative solutions
  • combines processes and design responses that enhance the experience we have of urban environments
  • incorporates art and artists in the design process at an early stage to contribute to creative approaches
  • values public art that is integrated into a building, space or place
  • builds a strong and distinctive local identity
  • utilises new technology
  • incorporates different cultural perspectives.

Photo: Avondale Fun Day, Auckland. Photo courtesy of Auckland City Council.

Photo: Lord of the Rings - Premier Opening, Wellington. Photo courtesy of Wellington City Council.


Quality urban design reduces the environmental impacts of our towns and cities through environmentally sustainable and responsive design solutions. Custodianship recognises the lifetime costs of buildings and infrastructure, and aims to hand on places to the next generation in as good or better condition. Stewardship of our towns includes the concept of kaitiakitanga. It creates enjoyable, safe public spaces, a quality environment that is cared for, and a sense of ownership and responsibility in all residents and visitors.

Quality urban design:

  • protects landscapes, ecological systems and cultural heritage values
  • manages the use of resources carefully, through environmentally responsive and sustainable design solutions
  • manages land wisely
  • utilises 'green' technology in the design and construction of buildings and infrastructure
  • incorporates renewable energy sources and passive solar gain
  • creates buildings, spaces, places and transport networks that are safer, with less crime and fear of crime
  • avoids or mitigates the effects of natural and man-made hazards
  • considers the ongoing care and maintenance of buildings, spaces, places and networks
  • uses design to improve the environmental performance of infrastructure
  • considers the impact of design on people's health.

Photo: Community planting at Whenua Rangatira, Auckland. Photo courtesy of Auckland City Council.

Photo: Mountainview School, Manakau City.


Towns and cities are designed incrementally as we make decisions on individual projects. Quality urban design requires good communication and co-ordinated actions from all decision-makers: central government, local government, professionals, transport operators, developers and users. To improve our urban design capability we need integrated training, adequately funded research and shared examples of best practice.

Quality urban design:

  • supports a common vision that can be achieved over time
  • depends on leadership at many levels
  • uses a collaborative approach to design that acknowledges the contributions of many different disciplines and perspectives
  • involves communities in meaningful decision-making processes
  • acknowledges and celebrates examples of good practice
  • recognises the importance of training in urban design and research at national, regional and local levels.

Photo: Out for a walk. Photo courtesy of Auckland City Council.

Photo: Newmarket Futures Workshop, Auckland. Photo courtesy of Auckland City Council.