Chapter 12: Urban Design and Placemaking

Dúnta28 Mei, 2022, 3:21pm - 28 Mei, 2022, 3:23pm

Aim: To ensure the use of good urban design and placemaking in Carlow’s towns and villages, which protects and enhances their unique character and heritage, contributes to the achievement of compact growth, improved health and wellbeing, and to attractive, vibrant and inclusive environments in which to live and work.


12.0 Introduction

The Council has a key role through the planning process in shaping the built environment of the County’s towns and villages.  Achieving a good quality-built environment and public realm is essential to support sustainable mobility, healthy communities, successful urban living and the achievement of compact growth. The success of settlements is dependent upon the provision of accessible, safe, and distinctive built environments, which builds upon their respective character and heritage.  This chapter outlines principles to achieve quality placemaking and good urban design which supports a key element of the core strategy in relation to compact growth.

12.1 Policy Context and Guidance

The key guidance and policy context that informed this chapter of the Plan includes (inter alia):

  • Project Ireland 2040 – National Planning Framework (NPF) and National Development Plan (NDP).
  • Regional Spatial and Economic Strategy 2020 (RSES) for the Southern Region.
  • Sustainable Residential Developments in Urban Areas, Guidelines for Planning Authorities Cities, Towns and Villages), DEHLG (2009).
  • Urban Design Manual, A Best Practice Guide, DEHLG (2009).
  • Retail Design Manual, A Companion Document to the Retail Planning Guidelines for Planning Authorities, DAHG (2012).
  • Design Manual for Urban Roads and Streets (DMURS), DTTS and DECLG (2013 & 2019).
  • Design Standards for New Apartments, Guidelines for Planning Authorities, DHLGH, (2018).
  • Urban Development and Building Heights Guidelines for Planning Authorities, DHPLG (2018).
  • Project Carlow 2040, A Vision for Regeneration, Carlow County Council.

12.2 Urban Design and the Importance of Placemaking and the Public Realm

Urban design deals with the arrangement, appearance, and function of the built environment in our towns and villages. It is both a process and an outcome of creating high quality places that all people can fully engage with, and which are attractive and liveable.    

Good urban design underpins what has been more recently termed as placemaking.  Placemaking reinforces a people-centred approach to the creation of the built environment, which goes beyond just the physical fabric of a place. A focus on placemaking acknowledges that compact growth in our towns and villages must be provided in tandem with social, recreation and cultural development, at the same time as enhancing and protecting the unique heritage, character, and identity of these settlements. 

Figure 12.1 details the key urban design considerations that contribute to good quality places. A quality public realm is characterised by safe, secure, and enjoyable public areas with well-defined and distinctive places and recognisable landmarks. A quality public realm includes an appropriate selection of facilities; a good balance between pedestrians and vehicles defined with quality materials and street furniture and will incorporate trees and other natural elements. Clear definition between private, semi-private and public space is required using well designed boundaries and materials.

Figure 12.1: Key Urban Design Principles for Quality Placemaking


National and regional policy in the NPF and RSES recognises that in supporting the role of urban design and placemaking, new residential development in towns and villages must:

  • Be appropriately located to support sustainable development and be of a scale of provision relative to location.
  • Support lifetime adaptable homes by building resilience in housing.
  • Incorporate sustainable residential densities through measures such as reduced vacancy, re-use of existing buildings, infill development, regeneration, and increased building heights at suitable locations.

12.2.1 Achieving Good Quality Urban Design and Placemaking

Good urban design and placemaking can contribute to the achievement of compact urban growth, a higher quality of life, greater economic vitality, and a more efficient use of resources.  To be successful, the public realm must be multi-functional and multi-dimensional, meeting the needs of people of all abilities, young and old, thereby improving quality of life for the communities they serve. 

Urban Design and Placemaking – Policies

It is the policy of the Council to:

UD. P1:  Provide high-quality public realm and urban spaces through support for and the promotion of good urban design and placemaking, to reinforce a people centred approach to the creation of the built environment. 
UD. P2: 

Apply the following key attributes when considering public realm enhancements:

  • Attractive and visually pleasing urban spaces with high-quality design, materials, and installations (street lighting, furniture and signage).
  • Distinctive urban spaces with reference to local context and existing built heritage, character, and identity.
  • Accessible, connected and linked permeable urban spaces that facilitate ease of movement.
  • Functional urban spaces that foster activity and are safe and adaptable.
UD. P3:  Require through the development management process that both public and private developments make a positive contribution to the public realm of towns and villages through adherence to best practice principles for urban design and placemaking as outlined in this chapter of the Development Plan, and relevant statutory guidelines and design manuals.

12.3  Health and Wellbeing in the Built Environment

A healthy built environment can:

  • Promote being active, eating healthy and other healthy habits;
  • Encourage social connectedness;
  • Prevent injuries and promote safety; 
  • Improve air, water, and soil quality;
  • Provide access to natural and green spaces; and,
  • Ensure all members of the community have good opportunities to be healthy regardless of their age, income level, gender, ethnic background, or any other social or economic reasons.

The connection between the built environment and public health has become increasingly apparent with the Covid 19 pandemic. This has demonstrated a key relationship between place and space and potential impact on human health and wellbeing. Individual actions to improve lifestyle or health status are likely to be influenced by both our environment and socioeconomic context. Broader health concerns in relation to physical activity, mental health and the impact on social activity and community participation have also been highlighted as a result of the on-going pandemic.   Health and wellbeing in urban environments are now recognised as of vital importance to future sustainable urban development which will bring connections between people and places to the fore.  Planning for the built fabric of our towns and villages must be informed by how people interact and move within it. In this context, active transport options such as walking and cycling within accessible and attractive public areas are required.  The goal is to help more people spend more time outdoors, together. Improving the quality and enhancing accessibility within settlements to high quality public open spaces will provide multiple benefits including health and wellbeing, as well as sustainable transport, biodiversity and recreation.

Figure 12.2
Figure 12.2:  Healthy Placemaking

Health and Wellbeing – Policies

It is the policy of the Council to:

HW. P1: Promote a healthy County by improving physical and social environments to create vibrant, accessible, healthy and sustainable places to live, work and relax.
HW. P2: Promote compact urban form, which is appropriate to context, in the interests of efficient use of resources and optimising the opportunities to walk and cycle, and the feasibility of public transport.
HW. P3:

Support and promote the development of healthy and attractive places by ensuring:

  • Adherence to high quality urban design and placemaking principles which are integrated into the layout and design of new developments.
  • Development proposals prioritise the need for people to be physically active and promote walking and cycling in the design of streets and public spaces.
  • New schools and workplaces are linked to walking and cycling networks.
  • The provision of open space considers different types of recreation and amenity uses that are connected through safe and secure walking and cycling routes.
  • Developments are planned for on a multi-functional basis to include ecosystem services, climate change adaptation measures, green infrastructure, and key landscape features in their design.

12.4  Designing for Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience

The requirement to adapt built environments to overcome the consequences that are associated with climate change is becoming more and more prevalent.  Many of the County’s towns and villages were founded on rivers for economic and transport reasons and as a result are more vulnerable to climate change.  The long-term impacts of built-up urban environments, including the use of impermeable surfaces for roads and footpaths, carbon intensive modes of heating and transport, and poor air quality, have further implications in this regard.   Adapting to these challenges is critical and will require a concerted effort to adapt the built environment to climate change. 

Adapting to climate change can be achieved through good urban design, and through the promotion and support of compact growth and urban regeneration. Adapting to climate change can be facilitated through:

  • Development Change

Spatial:  Focusing and consolidating growth in the core areas of towns and villages.

Movement and Air Quality:  Being aware of our impact on the climate and making a positive change for the future.

Health and Wellbeing:  Placing an emphasis on healthy living through urban design practices.

  • Environmental Assets

Green and Blue Infrastructure:  Increasing the use of rivers and river corridors in towns and villages for leisure and amenity and also as sustainable industries.

Designing for Climate Change – Policies

It is the policy of the Council to:

CC. P1:  Require the incorporation of adaptable, multi-functional, and sensitive design solutions which support the transition to low carbon, climate resilient, sustainable and attractive towns and villages.
CC. P2:  To support Sustainable Energy Communities initiatives subject to compliance with planning and environmental considerations.

12.5 Town and Village Centres

Town and village centres provide vitally important functions comprising centres of economic and tourist activity, transport hubs, focal points for local communities, places to live, and places for recreation and amenity.  Retaining vibrancy and vitality has proved challenging with declining residential populations, a growth in suburban areas, and reduced retail activity. These trends have contributed to loss of attractiveness, vitality and liveability with knock-on effects for the character and appearance of urban centres. There is now a need for a major focus on regenerating original town centre and village centre areas, with a view to creating more attractive, desirable places that people want to live and spend time in, for work, shopping or recreational purposes.  A new emphasis on renewing and developing existing settlements will be required, rather than continual expansion and sprawl of towns and villages.

In this regard, urban design, placemaking and public realm will play a vital role in helping to define the town and village centres so that they present as attractive locations for people to live, work and visit. 

Town and Village Centres – Policies

It is the policy of the Council to:

TVC .P1: Regenerate and revitalise our town and village centres, diversify and seek new roles and uses to stimulate economic and cultural development and provide necessary physical and social infrastructure.
TVC. P2: Target financial incentives to re-establish the role of town and village centres and encourage a greater take up of development opportunities for retail, residential, commercial, and leisure uses.
TVC. P3: Seek funding to support the preparation of public realm strategies to enhance the unique characteristics and assets of Carlow’s towns and villages.
TVC .P4: Promote the consolidation of town and village centres with a focus on the regeneration of underused / vacant buildings and strategic sites and the establishment of a mix of uses to encourage greater vibrancy outside of business hours.
TVC. P5: Promote the utilisation of available funding to support the plan led development and regeneration of publicly owned land banks.
TVC. P6: Require all development proposals for strategic brownfield / infill sites in towns and villages to be accompanied by a site brief and/or masterplan that sets out a phased programme for the regeneration of the site and demonstrates how the development proposal complies with statutory guidelines that seek to integrate principles of high-quality urban design and placemaking.

12.6 Compact Growth and Urban Regeneration

The NPF acknowledges that the physical format of urban development is one of Ireland’s greatest development challenges.    The pattern of development over the last number of decades represented a departure from the traditional compact urban form of the 20th century, with the fastest growing areas predominantly being at the edges of and outside towns and villages in the Country.    This has had implications in terms of the provision of infrastructure, urban sprawl, run-down urban centres, a dependency on private transport, and a higher carbon footprint.   

To tackle these challenges policy objectives in NPF and RSES are focused on securing compact and sustainable growth in urban settlements through the development and regeneration of existing built-up areas.   Strong urban design and place making principles are at the core of this compact growth and regeneration initiative.

The preferred approaches are to utilise previously developed brownfield sites and infill sites, as well as the redevelopment of existing sites and buildings. By utilising these approaches to increase the proportion of future urban development within the footprint of existing built-up areas in towns and villages there is potential to:

  • Bring new life and footfall;
  • Increase the viability of services, shops, and public transport;
  • Bring people closer to their place of work and to recreational opportunities; and,
  • Increase opportunities for walking and cycling as alternatives to private car-based travel.

12.6.1 Project Carlow 2040: A Vision for Regeneration and Development

Project Carlow 2040 is a Regeneration Strategy which seeks to achieve a high quality connected urban environment with increased employment opportunities and a better quality of life for all. The Strategy focuses development on the Town Centre and identifies opportunities in the built environment and the public realm which can be developed to the benefit of the community and the local economy. In this regard it includes a number of interventions which will act as a catalyst for the regeneration of the Town. In addition to the Intervention Areas, the Strategy incorporates a number of Character Areas which together, help identify the key characteristics across the Town Centre area. These include a Retail Quarter in the Town Centre with a key aim to promote ‘retail prosperity’ at a time when the sector faces challenges. It seeks to consolidate and link the modern shopping centre to the east with the retail core thereby leveraging competitive advantages for the Town.

Figure 12.3: Potato Market Intervention Area


Figure 12.4: Potato Market & Barrack Street Link


Improving the connections between principal retail, educational and civic spaces in Carlow Town will entice people to spend more time in a vibrant and modern Town Centre, while providing more sustainable forms of movement around the Town. Additionally, this Strategy seeks to re-establish a residential population within the Town Centre through the promotion of and provision for Town Centre living, as well as improved public realm spaces and better access and promotion of civic uses.

Figure 12.5
Figure 12.5:  Barrack Track/Civic Spine - Carlow’s Riverfront provides the opportunity to shape the Town’s future and deliver an exemplary model for sustainable compact growth in an urban environment.
Figure 12.6
Figure 12.6:  Improved Carlow Town Centre circulation through Barrack Street and Market Square Link

In line with national and regional policy, the Strategy is innovative and offers a sustainable approach to urban regeneration. The implementation of the interventions in this Strategy will not only regenerate large areas of the town centre but will improve health and wellbeing, create better town centre spaces, enhance competitiveness and commercial activity, promote town centre living and encourage building enhancements in order to improve the long-term viability of Carlow Town.

Guiding Principles outlined in the strategy seek to address the existing challenges facing Carlow Town by building on the many assets and attractors of the Town.  These principles address (inter alia):

  • Reduced Vacancy;
  • Promote a high quality of life and wellbeing;
  • A Town perceived as an exciting place to live, work and visit;
  • A Distinctive Town;
  • Increased Town Centre Footfall; and,
  • Diversity of Uses in the Town Centre.

Compact Growth and Urban Regeneration Policies – Policies

It is the policy of the Council to:

CGR. P1: Promote and support the regeneration of underused town centre, village centre and brownfield/infill lands, in conjunction with the delivery of existing zoned and serviced lands.
CGR. P2: Facilitate the delivery of compact and sequential growth and urban regeneration in towns and villages by consolidating the built footprint through a focus on regeneration and development of key infill /brownfield /backland sites.
CGR. P3: Support increased building heights at appropriate locations subject to the criteria outlined in Policy DN P6,  including intervention sites along the River Barrow in Carlow Town (as contained in Carlow 2040) and in accordance with the County’s settlement hierarchy, and subject to compliance with best practice urban design, and proper planning and environmental considerations. 
CGR. P4: Promote regeneration and revitalisation of the County’s small towns and villages and support local enterprise and employment opportunities to ensure their viability as service centres for their surrounding rural hinterlands.

12.7  Best Practice Principles for Urban Design and Placemaking

To create a distinctive and an enduring built environment and to guide and secure compact and sustainable urban growth, the following principles should inform development proposals:

  • Character: Aim to create identity and character that reinforces locally distinctive patterns of development and landscape.
  • Maintain and Consolidate: Maintain the cores of urban settlements while avoiding developments that cause sprawl or decentralising core functions.
  • Expansion:  Only to be considered where it does not have a negative impact on the existing urban centre or overall settlement fabric.
  • Regeneration: This involves constant change and evolution of existing urban development. Reuse, refurbishment, and redevelopment of existing buildings and sites is preferable.
  • Continuity and Enclosure: Public and private spaces that are clearly distinguished, and continuity of street frontages and enclosure of space by the built form, is achieved.
  • Public Realm: Quality of public spaces and routes that are attractive, safe, uncluttered and work effectively for all in society, including older people and people with disabilities.
  • Liveable Environments: Encouraging walkable environments which facilitate access to public transport in order to reduce reliance on the private car, as well as the provision of a well-connected open space network.
  • Accessibility and Connectivity: Providing opportunities for permeability to form new or to strengthen existing connections.
  • Mobility:  Prioritising pedestrian and cyclist movement in towns and villages, facilitating connectivity and permeability. 
  • Variety and Viability:  Promote choice through a mix of compatible developments and uses that work together to ensure places respond to local needs, as well as providing for a diverse society of different incomes at different stages of their lives.
  • Environmental Sustainability: Enhancing local ecology by promoting biodiversity, by allowing new wildlife habitats to establish and protecting existing ones.

New developments can only succeed in creating ‘place’ if the principles required are incorporated into their planning and design.  Many of these principles are further explained and expanded upon in the DEHLG Urban Design Manual, A Best Practice Guide (2009).  The guide highlights 12 key criteria for successful urban design and placemaking, as shown by Figure 12.7.  The criteria are sub-divided into three groups: Neighbourhood/Site/Home, reflecting the sequence of spatial scales and order of priorities that is followed in a good design process.  These 12 criteria can also be applied across a wide variety of locations and development proposals.