Masterplanning and urban design: what are they and why do they matter?

‘Places’ are more than just a collection of buildings and the surrounding environment – they feature social, cultural and economic influences that shape the lives of the people who live there.

Masterplanning and urban design are two key processes in the development of a location, weaving together strategy and creativity to deliver better places for people to live, work and play.

Here at Greyfriars Project Management, we have extensive masterplanning and urban design experience, helping our clients in the public and private sectors generate better solutions when deciding how space is used.

So, backed by our expertise, we’ve taken a look at what masterplanning and urban design are – and why they matter.

What is masterplanning?

Masterplanning involves the creation of a framework – or masterplan – which determines and guides the long-term development of a location with the aim of creating better places.

A vital part of the planning process, masterplanning helps to design, plan and build effective and efficient places that consider social infrastructure, buildings, transport, sustainability, community and character. This is especially important as our built environment continues to expand!

It’s a structured approach which is not only important for creating the best developments in the present, but crucial for meeting the needs of future generations too.  

There are two main types of masterplanning:

Strategic masterplanning

Popular in the public sector, strategic masterplanning involves identifying how larger spaces, such as whole regions, cities or towns, can be regenerated or developed.

Project masterplanning

Project masterplanning is focused on a specific site or project with established boundaries, like a development on a defined piece of land.

What is urban design?

Urban design is about creating places for people.

It involves the design and arrangement of an urban environment – including buildings, transport, public spaces, amenities and social infrastructure – to create better places for everyone.

It often involves a number of stakeholders, including developers, local authorities, landscape architects, town planners, engineers, transport planners and more – who all aim to create a built environment which brings people together.

Urban design is the process which shapes neighbourhoods, cities and communities, whether that’s a building and land development or town-scale regeneration.

Why do masterplanning and urban design matter?

Masterplanning and urban design often go hand-in-hand.

Both are vital to ensuring the right outcome is reached when creating or regenerating a space. Good masterplanning and urban design can have a significant impact on not just places but the people who live there too.

Both help boost the three key qualities of a successful place:


When done effectively, masterplanning and urban design create and deliver vibrant, high-quality places people want to live in.

Without them, places can be illogical, ineffective and inaccessible.

By identifying solutions for how a space is effectively used, masterplanning and urban design can connect people and places and provide better spaces to live, work and play.

Both processes consider factors such as access to parks and green spaces, affordable housing, social infrastructure, transport and areas that are safe and accessible for all residents and visitors, regardless of age, ability or income level.

For example, masterplanning and urban design can ensure residential developments are located near schools, parks and public transportation, and are thus suitable for their intended use and compatible with a high quality of life.


Masterplanning and urban design can help to create equitable developments by considering the needs of all stakeholders, including residents, businesses and community groups.

Without effective masterplanning and urban design, there is a higher risk of an ineffective urban environment which poorly serves some or all of its inhabitants.

With both masterplanning and urban design, deep consideration is given to the needs of all involved – whether that’s access to public transport or safe public spaces.

This leads to more inclusive and effective developments where everyone has access to the same opportunities and resources.

And, arguably, this is even more important in regeneration projects where the aim is to improve previous defects to make the space more equitable.


Sustainability is becoming more important than ever – and masterplanning and urban design are critical to creating sustainable developments.

Factors such as energy efficiency, water conservation and the use of renewable energy sources can be considered and then planned and designed into a development.

Also, issues like sustainable transportation can also be promoted by designing developments which are walkable, bikeable and have good access to public transport. This can reduce traffic congestion and air pollution as well as encourage communities to be more active.

How can Greyfriars help?

Effective masterplanning and urban design are crucial to creating efficient and well-planned developments, resulting in sustainable and liveable environments which support and connect people and places – now and in the future.

Our expert team has significant experience delivering both strategic and project masterplanning and urban design. We work with communities and stakeholders to ensure any new urban infrastructure or developments meets the changing needs of our society.

We can provide strategic and creative support for developments of all levels, whether that’s a small-scale development or a town-scale regeneration in the public or private sector.

Whatever stage your project is at, we can help.

Get in touch today to find out more.