3 Urban Design Trends that Influence Microclimate

Pedestrian Level Wind (PLW) analysis has risen to prominence — and will continue to grow in importance — because of three converging trends. These include 15-minute cities and sustainability initiatives, renewed appreciation for outdoor spaces in urban environments, and an emphasis on increasing density.

Trend #1: 15-minute cities and sustainability initiatives

We’ve grouped 15-minute cities and sustainability because — to borrow a phrase from Frank Sinatra — you can’t have one without the other.

The 15-minute city is an urban planning concept in which most daily necessities and services (e.g., education, child care, work, healthcare, leisure, shopping, etc.) can be easily reached within 15 minutes by walking, cycling, or engaging in some other form of active transportation. 15-minute cities represent a partial return to how cities evolved since the dawn of civilization. This was until the arrival of the personal automobile and, more recently, the United States’ National Interstate and Defense Highways Act and its ripple effects on urban design.

In addition to a host of benefits for citizens (e.g., health, well-being, affordability, etc.), proponents argue that this paradigm is much more environmentally sustainable than the sprawling, automobile-centric layouts of the vast majority of North American cities. Many initiatives start with sustainability in mind and ultimately include the 15-minute city — hence the two are inextricably linked.

Faced with urban deserts, environmental challenges, and other issues, many cities are seriously exploring the 15-minute city concept. Other have already incorporated key elements into their planning documents. Recognizing an opportunity when they see one, major players like Deloitte are also involved.

Pushback from conspiracy theorists aside, 15-minute cities are just getting started, and will likely shape urban planning fore decades.

See the difference for yourself.

Try Orbital Stack today to instantly compare microclimate, thermal comfort and solar impacts on your designs.

Trend #2: The growing value of outdoor spaces

Since 2020, pandemic health measures have reminded everyone how important outdoor spaces  — public, commercial or privately owned — are to wellbeing.

Accordingly, the valuations of properties equipped with balconies, patios, and garden or park spaces surged skyward. As a result, new designs for urban projects almost always feature outdoor amenities.

City planners are paying closer attention to how well public outdoor spaces are meeting citizens’ needs, and what factors may be preventing a space from fulfilling its potential as an oasis within the urban landscape.

Trend #3: Cities are emphasizing urban density

Finally, cities are beginning to recognize that increasing density is a requirement of fiscal solvency. Sprawl is simply too expensive to build and to maintain. In many cases the only way to prevent financial catastrophe is to increase property tax revenues by fitting more people into smaller footprints — and that means building up.

But with lots both small and short in supply, low-rise buildings aren’t always an option — which means mid-rises and high-rises are the name of the game. 

Unfortunately, when buildings go up, wind is forced down (and around). And — in general — the higher up you go, the (exponentially) stronger the winds. The taller the building, the faster winds are deflect into the sidewalks, patios, parks, balconies, and other outdoor spaces.

Such winds can extend well beyond being merely an inconvenience or nuisance. They can render spaces unusable, impact property values, and even create very real safety issues with tragic consequences.

To understand the impacts of these winds on our ability to use outdoor spaces — and to inform mitigations and other measures to minimize negative effects — cities, architects, designers, property developers, and other stakeholders turn to Pedestrian-Level Wind analysis.