WHEN the Urban Design Coalition talks about "urban design" it isn't just talking about the look of downtown buildings, or even the way those buildings fit together into a skyline.

Urban design as the coalition sees it is more fundamental, and more personal, than that."What we're really talking about is urban ecology," explains coalition chairman Stephen A. Goldsmith. Like fish in a pond or trees in a forest, Salt Lakers have a meaningful relationship with the city they live in.

When the city is designed well, people flourish. When people flourish, the city survives.

The Urban Design Coalition, an arm of the Salt Lake Arts Council, encourages community awareness of what it takes to make Salt Lake attractive, livable and vital.

This month the coalition is sponsoring the fourth annual Urban Design Awards to celebrate the people, institutions and designs that add to that awareness. The awards are co-sponsored by the Deseret News.

Rather than relying on a panel of experts, the coalition has made these "people's choice" awards. You are invited to vote for your favorite examples of urban design (see ballot below).

"We're looking for the best and the brightest and the most committed," says Goldsmith.

"If out of this we can convey to the public a sense that the citizen is not only someone who uses the environment but participates in its development, we will have succeeded," he adds.

In past years, awards have been given to such diverse efforts as the grounds on Temple Square and a Planned Parenthood billboard that admonished "If your girlfriend gets pregnant, so do you." Awards have gone to urban activist Hermoine Jex, Memory Grove, O.C. Tanner's fountains, and the Urban Forestry Board.

This year, the awards are divided into five categories:

** Dedicated Participant: The coalition wants to honor those individual volunteers, civil servants or organizations most committed to creating or preserving urban design. The Avenues Community Council, a past winner, is one example.

** Street Life: This will reward a design or an effort that brings vitality to Salt Lake's streets, drawing people to places they might not otherwise have frequented. Mini-parks, sidewalk cafes, concerts are examples.

** Transportation: A city that is gridlocked, or even just inconvenient to get around in, does not serve its citizens well. The coalition will give this award to an institution, system or individual that keeps the city free-flowing. "It might be an advertisement for taking the bus, or a company that encourages car pooling," says Goldsmith.

** Neighborhood focus: This will reward an organization, event or individual effort that adds character or dignity to a Sale Lake neighborhood. The westside Jackson neighborhood, for example, has worked hard recently to fight the construction of a freeway ramp onto North Temple.

** Balance: What is the best single example of the successful merging of the built and natural environment? If Frank Lloyd Wright's famous Falling Water house were in Salt Lake instead of in Pennsylvania it would deserve such an award. But it doesn't have to be architecture, notes Goldsmith. "It could be a stone wall next to a roadway."

The Urban Design winners will be announced in November.