Liveable, accessible, sustainable and biophilic: which to choose?

An older man and woman are walking away from the camera down a street. They are wearing backpacks and holding hands.The main aspects of sustainability – social, economic, cultural and environmental – are all opportunities for designers. But what to consider and how to design? An article focusing on ageing populations looks at design for all, universal design, inclusive design, human centred design, and biophilic design. The authors conclude that universal design and biophilic design create the best outcomes.

The article covers many of the well known facts in this field of research, and addresses the different design approaches and terminology. The concept of “sustainable ageing” is discussed in terms of well-being, economic inclusion and the living environment.  After examining all the different approaches the authors conclude:

“However, considering the sustainability requirements, including the circular economy and social cohesion aspects, the most adequate and flexible approach is the universal design concept. The universal design concept, encouraging diversity of users and social integration, is favorable for the implementation of healthy aging and active aging concepts. Moreover, universal design is applicable in the aging at home concept: the design solutions of buildings and environment can be from the start adapted to the needs of the elderly, avoiding the necessity of further reconstructions as the users age.”

A graphic showing a Venn diagram with sustainable ageing in the centre. It is overlapped by social, environmental and economic sustainability.

The title of the article is, “Aging, Living Environment, and Sustainability: What Should be Taken into Account?  it is a well considered discussion that draws together the many approaches to designing for a diverse population. 

Graphic showing the links between environmental, social and econocmic sustainability to create a suitable living environment for older people.

Abstract: The aging population presents numerous challenges and the design and management of living environments are not an exception. This literature review and analysis brings together topics related to the living environment of the aging population and the concept of sustainability. The article presents the review of the existing design concepts that are applied to planning the environment for the elderly, including (i) design for all, (ii) universal design, and (iii) inclusive design. Furthermore, this review highlights the aspects of sustainability and the peculiarities of the aging population that should be taken into account in the design and management of their living environment. Key points related to sustainable aging are highlighted, and the possibility of complementing the existing design concepts with the concept of biophilic design is proposed in order to strengthen their social, psychological, and ecological aspects.

The graphics are reproduced from the article.

Home for Good

A vase of purple and white flowers sits on a small table with a cup of tea, an open book and a pair of glasses.What is a home? It’s so much more than a shelter from the elements. The concept of home gives us a place in the world. It underpins our identity, our relationships and our understanding of who we are and where we fit in the scheme of things. It is intrinsic to the human condition.Yet it is overlooked in the development of policies to support housing provision.

Home for Good is a policy brief “intended to restore the idea of home as both a psychological and social asset to our discourse on housing, rather than just a financial asset. It is specifically concerned with the role of the home as we age, positing that successful ageing is dependent on a person’s access to a home that provides security, community, safety and autonomy”. The policy brief poses a policy framework for a national approach to providing older Australians with homes that meet their social, emotional, environmental, and psychological needs.

The policy brief says nothing about the design of homes, but it does tap into the real meaning of home for many older people – the social equity. Hence the reticence to move to age segregated living. The article can be downloaded from the Analysis & Policy Observatory. It’s by Emma Dawson and Myfan Jordan of Per Capita. Easy to read.

 

See here: I want to go shopping

A close up of cakes, bread and buns in a bakery shop.Shopping is a common human activity. It gets us out of the house and mobilising. It helps connect us to our neighbourhood. But the shopping experience of people with vision impairment is another matter. They are limited to familiar places where they can confidently and independently purchase what they need. This means there are no spontaneous shopping choices. So is this good for retail business and the private market?

The “blind district” of Lithuania is a place created during Soviet rule. It provides fertile ground for research on this topic. It also allows comparison with other parts of the city and the differences in shopping experiences by people with vision impairment. An article published in the Journal of Public Space covers the history of the blind district, disability rights, participation in the market and urban accessibility. The second half of the article is where the research project appears. A novel approach to this topic.

The title of the article is, When Accessibility of Public Space Excludes: Shopping experience of people with vision impairments. by Ieva Eskyté, University of Leeds.

Abstract  The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006) recognises access to consumer goods and services in the mainstream private market as essential for full participation in society. Nevertheless, people with impairments rarely enjoy the same rights and consumer experience as non-disabled individuals. This paper argues that (in)accessibility of public space is an important factor shaping how accessible the private market is for people who do not ‘fit’ conventional norms and standards. It demonstrates how category-driven accessibility provisions in some geographical areas and not in others segregate disabled people within certain providers, create social and consumer isolation, and become a marker that accentuates difference and separation between disabled consumers who live in accessible districts, and the rest of the population. To illustrate the case, the paper uses empirical evidence from mystery shopping in retail outlets and qualitative interviews with people with vision impairments who live in the ‘Blind district’ in Lithuania. The district was developed by the Soviet Union (1949-1990) to boost people with vision impairments’ participation in the socialist labour market economy.

 

Gender-Inclusive Urban Planning

Front cover of the Handbook. Blue background and white text.Why does gender inclusive urban design and planning matter? The World Bank’s new Handbook for Gender-Inclusive Urban Planning and Design gives some answers. A city that works well for women, girls, and sexual and gender minorities of all ages and differing levels of capability supports economic and social inclusion. Gender inclusive planning and design is:

    • Participatory: actively including the voices of women, girls, and sexual and gender minorities
    • Integrated: adopting a holistic, cross-cutting approach that centres gender throughout and promotes citizen-city relationship building
    • Universal: meeting the needs of women, girls, and sexual and gender minorities of all ages and abilities
    • Knowledge-building: seeking out and sharing robust, meaningful new data on gender equity
    • Power-building: growing the capacity and influence of under-represented groups in key decisions
    • Invested-in: committing the necessary finances and expertise to follow through on intentional gender equity goals

“Meeting these goals requires a fundamental shift in thinking and approach, and in particular a commitment to participatory processes, integrated approaches, Universal Design, building knowledge and power among under-represented groups; and financial investment.” Chapters cover the rationale for gender inclusion, foundations of planning and design, processes and project guidelines, case studies and further resources.

Urban planning and design shape the environment around us — and that shapes how we live, work, play, move, and rest. This handbook highlights the relationships between gender inequality, the built environment, and urban planning and design. Best practices for urban planning are included.

Available via institutional access from The World Bank library website.   

The 18MB file can be downloaded directly or purchase as an e-book from Amazon.  

An article in the Latin American Post summarises some of the content. 

 

Age-Friendly city or no place to grow old?

WHO age friendly logo of 8 petals showing the 8 domains of lifeAge Friendly Cities has its founding concepts in healthy ageing. Well if it’s healthy for older people it’s healthy for everyone. These cities should be walkable, compact and have infrastructure that supports liveability. But planning laws haven’t adapted to this. They continue to address ageing in terms of age-segregated living arrangements. 

Canada was at the forefront of the development of the WHO Age Friendly Cities program in 2006. But that hasn’t been enough to overcome entrenched planning and development processes. No Place to Grow Old: How Canadian Suburbs Can Become Age-Friendly, found that although planners and others have concerns about an ageing population, their thinking hasn’t adapted. Consequently, little has changed in the last ten years. 

The survey found that older people were still seen as a special-needs group rather than establishing inclusive policy solutions. The report makes some useful recommendations and the findings are applicable to any urban area in any location.

You can find a list of Australian cities or communities that are members of the WHO Global Network of Age Friendly Cities on the WHO website. You can also find out how your community can become a member of the Global Network.

The graphic above depicts the 8 domains of life that need to be considered in making a community age-friendly: Housing, Transportation, Social Participation, Respect and Social Inclusion, Outdoor Spaces and Buildings, Community Support and Health Services, Communication and Information, and Civic Participation and Employment. An argument was made at the International Federation of Ageing Conference in 2016 that housing should be in the centre of the the petals as it is the central part of everyone’s life.

Consumers, care and ageism

A man sits on a bench in a garden near a building.Are customers the same as citizens? Consumers are part of the market. Citizens are part of society. There are consumer rights and then there are human rights. Older people are treated as consumers of specialised housing products. They are not treated as citizens in their own homes. This is one of the messages to come out if the Royal Commission.

In The Fifth Estate article, Willow Aliento says of the care and retirement living sectors, “…the inquiry found that there had been a shift towards thinking about the aged care sector as an “industry” with “customers”, rather than a social service for older citizens.” This is an important factor because this approach dehumanises residents. Even the retirement living sector is fundamentally ableist because they only advertise “active living”. 

The article discusses how poor design of the physical environments with large, noisy facilities and poor visual layouts contributes to residents’ reduced quality of life and care. it also cover issues of downsizing and pension and assets tests. Complex issues are tackled well in this article titled, How ageist, ableism and inequity are creating “shelter hell’ for older people

 

Smart Cities for All

cover of Smart Cities Toolkit.How smart can a smart city be? ‘Smart’ is everything from the footpath to the website. So not so smart if it doesn’t include everyone and join the dots between all the factors that make a city a city.  With digital transformations happening worldwide, the aim of the Smart Cities for All Toolkit is to eliminate the digital divide and improve urban environments for everyone. In the video below, James Thurston talks about the issues cities are facing.

The main part of the toolkit, the Inclusive Innovation Playbook, is detailed and aimed at a policy and planning level. Stakeholder participation and inclusion is an essential theme. Case studies assist with understanding. There is a helpful checklist at the end of the Playbook. There’s a lot to digest, but this means it isn’t a cursory overview with simplistic solutions. It goes much deeper than a digital accessibility checklist. This is about joining the dots across city assets and leveraging them for everyone’s benefit. Other sections of the toolkit cover: 

    • Toolkit Overview
    • Guide to adopting an ICT accessibility procurement policy
    • Implementing priority ICT accessibility standards
    • Communicating the case for stronger commitment to digital inclusion in cities
    • Database of solutions for digital inclusion in cities

“The toolkit supports a range of organizations and roles related to Smart Cities, including government managers, policy makers, IT professionals, disability advocates, procurement officials, technology suppliers, and developers who design Smart City apps and solutions.

Each of the tools addresses a priority challenge identified by global experts as a barrier to the digital inclusion of persons with disabilities and older persons in Smart Cities.”  See also Smart Cities for All: A Vision

James Thurston of 3Gict discusses the issues in the video below.  

Ageing with Choice in Western Australia

Ageing with Choice front cover.Ageing with Choice is Western Australia’s blueprint for “seniors housing”. One might ask, why only for older people? The Future Directions document has housing as part of the concept of being age-friendly and having connected communities. Some research went into the document and there are no real surprises. There are seven priority areas and a list of actions to follow. A good example of planning for the longevity revolution. A well set-out document with lots of infographics. 

Editor’s Note: There should be a note of caution about ancillary dwellings in the family back yard. That is, if the family splits up or has to move with their jobs, what happens to grandma? She doesn’t own the land. Also, to date, most ancillary dwellings are rented out to supplement family income. But this is a good idea for increasing rental stock for all ages. Downsizing should also be cautioned in terms of living in a small home. Research is still showing a preference for three bedrooms to give “room to move” especially if partnered. But most older people want to downsize their maintenance and gardening. I also noted some of the infographics are still based on mythical population segments.

Strategy priorities are :

Age-friendly communities
Homes that support ageing in place
Affordable housing innovations and alternatives to home ownership
Better options for renters
A more age-responsive social housing system
Assistance for those experiencing housing crisis
Informed decision-making

Ageing with Choice: Future directions for seniors housing 2019-2024 can be downloaded from the Western Australia Government website.

 

The 100 year life

A graphic showing facades of different styles of free standing homes in lots of colours. They look like toy houses.People expect to grow old, but they don’t plan to grow old. Public policy has to do more than just capture people when they can no longer care for themselves. Even if people plan for their older age, there are policy and built barriers preventing the continuation of a “decent life”. And housing is a key barrier.

The report, The 100-year life: the role of housing, planning and design, highlights the issues and provides recommendations. The report recommends an integrated approach to housing, planning and design to support people in later life. It stresses the importance of taking a universal design approach and co-production. Developers, planners and local authorities also have an important role to play. And of course, focusing on older people means that people of all ages are included. While this is a UK project, there are many aspects that apply to other countries including Australia.

The research was conducted jointly by Design Council, Centre for Ageing Better and Social Care Institute for Excellence. The report in PDF was published in June 2018. The report includes references and resources.  

See also the Colorado Lifelong Homes White Paper for a similar take on the issues of successful ageing in place.

“A decent life” as described by Amartya Sen

Toilets, taboos, and design principles

Directional sign to toilets in an outdoor area.Public toilets are a key factor in getting out and about. But are they useable by everyone? Ever thought about how they contribute to our economic and social growth? A myriad of issues are brought together for a thoughtful discussion in Katherine Webber’s Churchill Fellowship report. The report is based on her international study tour. It has several recommendations for design, maintenance and social planning. The title of the report is, “Exploring Accessibility and Inclusion in Public Toilets“. There is a one page checklist on public toilet design principles. See below.

The report has a great quote from Lezlie Lowe that indicates the importance of public toilets in everyday life, “Have we ever granted toilets – and especially public toilets – their due? Have we given them credit for how they’ve helped grow our world? As gross or goofy or quotidian as they may seem, public toilets represent higher notions and beliefs. Fundamentally: who is in and who is out. Whom we see as part of the city. Whom we see as human.” From, No Place to Go: How Public Toilets Fail Our Private Needs. A list of public toilet design principles.