Masterplanning is much more than predicting infrastructure issues before they arise - a well-designed development framework can have a significant impact on people’s lives

Masterplanning is a skill that is often misunderstood - and not just because for some it conjures up images of Bond villains intent on global domination. There are professionals who think it’s acceptable to build new homes in small patches as land becomes available, without the benefit of a masterplan. But masterplanning provides strategic-scale front-end design that can improve people’s lives. Here’s how:

1. Keeps communities together

A masterplan is used to plan where development and infrastructure will be built over years (or even decades) into the future. If we build without a masterplan, we risk building new homes where, for example, major infrastructure may be needed over time. When this happens, communities are displaced and people lose their homes. Masterplanning provides a development framework that, if followed, minimises the need for major disruption.

2. Generates a healthy environment

When communities are over dependent on cars and have unappealing outdoor environments for walking, cycling and relaxing, people get less exercise and health deteriorates. This is a global problem. We can use masterplanning to house people closer to jobs, leisure activities and public transportation, enabling them to leave their cars at home. Walking to work, visiting neighbours and engaging in community pursuits becomes the norm.

3. Creates jobs

Places with a sustainable mix of uses have a higher job to resident ratio. That means a place with 1,000 residents in a mostly residential environment will have fewer jobs than a place with 1,000 residents in a mixed-use environment. It may sound obvious, but then why are so many new communities being delivered with primarily residential uses? We can do better. Masterplanning ensures we get the mix right.

Nothing is less sustainable than demolishing viable communities because a viable masterplan was not put into place.

4. Provides exciting experiences

The most vibrant and popular places are often mixed-use environments where people gather to experience the ambience and engage in a variety of activities. These successful places have often been developed over time to accommodate people’s changing needs and preferences. As we build new urban extensions and towns from scratch, a masterplan can be used to ensure an enticing mix of activities is provided to create a real sense of place - right from the beginning.

5. Keeps people safe

Neighbourhoods are safer when public spaces are well used. A good masterplan can encourage people to use public space by providing ample room for walkers and cyclists, good lighting and public places to relax, and planning the right kind of land use mix to keep the place busy and lively.

6. Saves time

We know people are moving to cities at a rapid rate. Some say 75 per cent of people will live in cities by 2050. It will be a big job to build the homes people need to live in and the places they will need to work and play. Masterplans ensure we build infrastructure in the right places - the first time - and build in flexibility to accommodate changes in the way people will live over the coming decades. Nothing is less sustainable than demolishing viable communities because a viable masterplan was not put into place. Demolition and rebuilding takes time and depletes our resources unnecessarily.

As a masterplanner, I create delivery strategies that show how to implement development that achieves these life-improving goals. But masterplanning is not a one-person job. My team consists of not only designers but economists, environmentalists and engineers, as well as people that specialise in socioeconomics, funding, public private partnerships and financing. A multi-disciplinary approach is needed to achieve a masterplan that gets built.

Building the cities of our future requires a collaborative effort. Our work will only truly improve people’s lives if we embrace the masterplan.

Margot Adelle Orr, global masterplanning lead, Atkins Acuity