An opinion piece on the Design Council website gives an overview of the study they did with Social Change UK. More than 600 built environment practitioners across the UK completed the survey. They found that healthy placemaking often sits outside mainstream housing, public health and placemaking policy. It is seen as a cost rather than an investment and consequently often gets overlooked. The article explains the economic benefits of healthy placemaking. The Design Council defines healthy placemaking as, “tackling preventable disease by shaping the built environment so that healthy activities and experiences are integral to people’s everyday lives.” Improved physical and mental health can be supported by designing neighbourhoods that enable:
- Physical activity: To increase walkability in buildings and neighbourhoods and encourage healthy modes of transport
- Healthy food: To improve access to healthier foods
- Social contact: To design well-connected housing and neighbourhoods that provide access to facilities and amenities to reduce social isolation and loneliness,
- Contact with nature: To provide access to the natural environment, including parks
- Pollution: Reducing exposure to air and noise pollution.
This all adds up to compact, mixed-use, walkable and wheelable neighbourhoods with leafy streets and great parks.
Hobsons Bay City Council is situated south-west of Melbourne with a significant stretch of coastal area. As with many local councils in Victoria they are keen to embrace the principles of universal design in their planning policies. As part of their access and inclusion strategy they plan to implement UD principles in new buildings, buildings with significant upgrades, retrofits of existing buildings, features and public open space. The policy statement includes a table where the 7 classic principles of universal design are translated into specific guidelines for council staff. The policy statement discusses the myths, regulatory framework and how to implement universal design, and how to go beyond compliance.
Next time you have a fire drill and have to evacuate a building, take a moment to consider if there is anyone around you that is, or could be, experiencing difficulty getting out – or maybe even you. If you are a Fire Warden even more reason to read the guide on Safe Evacuation for All from the National Disability Authority in Ireland. It can be downloaded in sections or read online. The aims of this publication are:
- to encourage anyone preparing an evacuation plan to consider the needs of people of all ages, sizes, abilities and disabilities in those plans;
- to help those responsible for buildings to recognise and understand the evacuation features relevant for people with disabilities;
- to give guidance on providing safe evacuation for people of all ages, sizes abilities and disabilities; and
- to identify good practice in providing safe evacuation for everybody.
The Conversation has an interesting article about being lonely in the city. It discusses the notion of “third places” – places that are in the public domain that encourage informal and casual social interaction. The “first place” is home, and the “second place” is where significant time is spent in a formal sense such as the workplace. Community gardens and town squares are an example of a “third” place. This bring into focus the idea of creating spaces with the human scale in mind. Loneliness is a growing concern and spoken of as the “new smoking”. Time for urban designers to ensure social interaction is encouraged for everyone – yes, it’s universal design. The article, Many people feel lonely in the city but perhaps third places can help with that has links to relevant papers.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) embrace the concept of “leave no-one behind”, but we hear little of the SDG in Australia. Perhaps because the focus of the SDG are on developing countries. But some of the aims and ideas could be applied at home as well as elsewhere. A report from the University of Birmingham in the UK reviews ways in which “different groups of people might be unintentionally excluded .. in infrastructure projects.” While the SDG are broad ranging to cover many aspects of exclusion, this report has a focus on people with disability, people of all ages and women. Large scale infrastructure projects can have negative effects for people who are largely invisible to investors, designers, and deliverers of such projects. The report covers transport, water and electricity, discusses tools and approaches, participatory planning processes, social equity audits and universal design. Case studies are provided throughout. Again, although this report is written with developing countries in mind, there are still learnings to be had for developed countries. The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has a booklet promoting universal design in aid projects funded by the government.
Nabil Eid writes a thoughtful piece on how inclusion in urban environments is an investment that benefits everyone. And not just built infrastructure – it includes services and experiences. This means a collaboration across disciplines that go beyond the traditional links. The more active we are, the healthier we will stay. He says, “Such concepts apply across the entirety of built environment, including not only buildings, transport infrastructure, public space and parks, but also to key products, services and facilities that help improve the experience of movement and connectivity. [It] will involve a wide array of different types of designers, each of whom will benefit from collaborating across disciplines and working with experts in a range of technologies or on designs that extend beyond their traditional spheres of interest.”
See his comprehensive article on the need for inclusion, Smart city means building an inclusive society for all.
Australia was one of the first countries to contribute to the WHO’s age-friendly cities project, but how much has been implemented? Hal Kendig explains the situation in a book chapter, Implementing age-friendly cities in Australia, which can be found in Age Friendly Cities and Communities: A Global Perspective. Kendig and co-authors conclude, “Notwithstanding the potential value for the broader community interests, there has been little achievement demonstrating the benefits of taking age and the life span into account in mainstream policy areas such as transport, housing and land-use planning.” They add that perhaps as the baby boomer numbers increase, the value might be better understood as this is a group with higher expectations of self determination in later life. The book is important reading for policy makers at all levels of government, particularly local government where the real lives of people are more keenly felt. Some parts of the chapter are available for a free read. You might also be interested in the WHO’s New Urban Agenda and the Place Design Group‘s ideas on implementation.
Editor’s note: I compiled the five most important aspects of neighbourhood design in a workshop handout: Footpaths, Seating, Lighting, Wayfinding, and Toilets.
The Universalising Design website has an interesting article, Negotiating Place: The Challenge of Inclusive Design. The article highlights the concept of place as being unequal – many places are designed in ways that keep certain people out. It begins with a quote from an access consultant, “In my more miserable moments I think we’ll never get it right, and people just ignore it, and building control officers don’t implement it, and we still see buildings where somebody says it’s accessible, and it’s not accessible at all. We’re still designing public spaces with cobbles, brand new public spaces with cobbles and seats that have got no arms or backrests, and they don’t understand that an older person can’t get up off a concrete stone bench. Why do they keep designing stuff like that?”
The author, Charlotte Bates, makes good points, including the one that many of us know: even when you design something to be inclusive, it is overridden by contractors who focus on time and money. So there is no guarantee the end result will be accessible. Very readable article.
If we apply the underpinning principles of universal design to all aspects of our daily lives and embrace the concept of inclusion, where do very low paid workers fit into the scheme of things? Willow Aliento discusses in Fifth Estate the “key worker” issue using a barista as an example of how low paid workers can’t even consider a home and family. So how does that fit with notions of equity? And for older workers who might have their own home, maintaining an existence becomes a daily challenge. She argues that property development policies need to factor stable employment into the mix along with being age and ability inclusive. A good article well written.