A UD approach to urban planning

Front cover of guide for planning.A guide to taking a universal design approach to urban planning covers just about everything. The aim of the guide is to deliver sustainable solutions and to create inclusive places. Here are some of the reasons planners should take a UD approach:

    • It avoids the need for wasteful and inefficient retro-fitting of solutions
    • It informs genuinely integrated strategies for land-use, transportation and urban design
    • It creates greater efficiencies for public infrastructure investment
    • It widens the audience and market for development projects enhancing commercial viability
    • It helps provide an environment in which people can age and retain their independence

Although this guide is based on planning laws in Ireland, there are many similarities to other jurisdictions. It covers, consultation, neighbourhoods, community facilities, lifetime homes, travel chain analysis, street design, car parking, economic development, wayfinding, heritage and more. There are also sample policy statements for each section. 

Once again, a really comprehensive guide from Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland.

The title of the guide is, Building for Everyone: A Universal Design Approach – Planning and policy.  


How to design an inclusive school building

A view of the school courtyard showing a circular garden and blue paving.A design project for a new school building shows how to make it inclusive for everyone. Architects involved users from the outset and then applied the knowledge they gained. This was no typical building because the task was to integrate two existing schools into the one building. One was a primary school and the other is described as a special school. The story is told in a video which begins with the architects talking about their approach. The video goes on to discuss all the elements they needed to consider which make this an excellent exemplar for all buildings.

Good examples of incorporating user feedback are the installation of footbaths. The area has a high Somali population who like to wash their feet before praying. Understanding that some children with autism find sharp building lines difficult influenced the curved building shapes within the building. The placement of toilets so staff don’t have to walk the length of the building each time was another factor in the final design. Integrating overhead hoists for transferring children to and from wheelchairs so that it just looked like part of the overall design – not special. Small details also make a difference. An interesting point was installing different tap styles because it is a learning experience for the children. And of course energy efficiency was not forgotten in the design process. 

 A very useful and interesting video from the UK for anyone interested in design. There are few good examples of inclusive design in action so this is welcome change. 

A second video shows it’s very productive to involve children in the design process. It’s too easy to dismiss them on the basis that they are too young to know much. It’s also a learning process for them too.

 The picture a the top is of the courtyard in the new school.

Beyond compliance with UD

Front cover of the guide.Standards for the built environment tell you how to comply with minimum requirements. But compliance does not equal usability or convenience for everyone. A guide book from Ireland on the built environment draws together Irish standards with a practical universal design approach. Many of the standards mirror those in Australia so most of the information is compatible. Parking, siting, pedestrian movement, steps, ramps, lifts, seating and bollards are all covered. 

Building for Everyone, External environment and approach covers each of the features in detail. While the style of tactile indicators varies from the Australian design, the advice on placement is still useful. There is a reference list of related documents including Australian Standards. The guide is undated, but probably published circa 2010. This means some of the technology, such as parking ticket machines is a little outdated.

There is also a section at the end on human abilities and design. It covers walking, balance, handling, strength and endurance, lifting, reaching, speech, hearing, sight, touch and more.

Published by the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland it is very detailed. Checklists help guide the reader through the material. This booklet links with others in the series, particularly the one on entrances and circulation spaces. The good aspect of these guides is the perspective of a universal design approach rather than proposing prescriptive design parameters.

COVID re-think on retirement living

Single storey homes in the late afternoon sun suggesting a retirement community.Retirement living has to factor pandemics into design now. Separation rather than isolation is the key.  Much of the value of specialist retirement living is the easy access to amenities and socialisation. But the pandemic put a stop to both. The constant reminder that older people are more vulnerable to the infection was the last straw. Especially as everyone fell into the vulnerable category. Consequently, everyone got isolated from each other. But how to design for this?

Australian Ageing Agenda has an article discussing these issues. If residents have to stay home for prolonged periods, they will likely demand more space. Pocket neighbourhoods could work so that only a section needs to be cordoned off. Other ideas are:

    • Converting utility rooms in residential aged care to provide  sleeping cubicles for staff to stay overnight
    • Architects and designers working with materials that are either antimicrobial or easily cleaned
    • Better air filtration and purification, possibly driven by future changes in air-quality codes
    • More high-tech senior-living communities with virtual socialisation, technology support and clear communication systems in place so residents can ask questions and feel more comfortable
    • Technology that allows residents to navigate communities without pressing buttons or grabbing handles
    • Facilitation of in-person visits during times of outbreaks via a dedicated clean room

The title of the article is, COVID-19 is shaping design of future facilities


Smart Cities: Inclusive Innovation Playbook

Front cover of the Smart Cities for All Inlcusive Innovation Playbook.Smart innovations need to be inclusive and accessible and not pose additional barriers for our diverse populations. The Smart Cities for All global initiative is tackling these issues, specifically in urban environments. 

The Smart Cities for All Toolkit has a companion publication – the Inclusive Innovation Playbook. It is a collaboration between AT&T, the City of Chicago, New York City and G3ict. The Playbook focuses on five steps that cities can take to make their innovation ecosystem more inclusive: people, economic assets, infrastructure, enabling environment, and networking assets. These are the five “Plays”. 

Each of the five Plays lists actions for cities to consider, and is followed by a Playbook Checklist. Each step is detailed and easy to follow. This Playbook is a must for urban planners, transport planners, public safety and anyone interested quality of life and inclusion for all citizens. It’s time to take action to minimise the digital divide.


Universal Design: New York

Front cover is grey with the title.A case study in creating universally designed urban spaces is a good way to showcase how it is done. Universal Design: New York 2 is not a new publication, but the principles are still relevant. It provides guidance for all aspects of an urban environment as well as temporary lodging, workplace facilities and human service facilities. The guide is comprehensive covering circulation systems, wayfinding, seating, public amenities, cultural facilities, renovations and additions, and more. It also lists seven myths about universal design and shows how they are just myths:

1. There are only a small number of people who benefit
2. Universal design only helps people with disability and older people
3. Legislation for disability rights have created equality, so no need to do more
4. Improved medical technology is reducing the incidence of functional limitation
5. Universal design cannot sustain itself in the marketplace because the people who need it most cannot afford it
6. Universal design is simply good ergonomic design
7. Universal design costs even more than accessible design

Universal Design: New York 2 is in PDF format. Edited by Danise Levine and published in 2003 by the Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access, University at Buffalo.

Hearing Loops: how do they work?

hearing-loop-headerFirst, they have to be connected to the sound system and switched on whenever the system is on. It’s not something people should have to ask for – because they won’t. Second, it requires everyone to use the microphone. No more, “my voice is loud enough”. Systems vary across venues and they are not all the same. Fortunately there are some fact sheets on the various types and when they should be used. 

Too often systems do not work or are not turned on and there is a lot of confusion as to how these systems operate. The best way to test a system to see if it is working is to ask someone who is wearing a hearing aid with a ‘T’ switch. Clearasound is one company that has a technical manager who wears such a hearing aid. This seems the only way to be sure that the system is connected properly, switched on and functioning. Too many systems fail to work even when technicians claim they do. Here are some of the fact sheets on the Clearasound site.

Design for Dignity Guidelines

The Design for Dignity guidelines cover all the elements in a major urban renewal project. The guide is based on the principles applied in the development of Barangaroo South in Sydney. It covers public domain, wayfinding, commercial and retail precincts, and workplaces. Stakeholder engagement is also covered. The pictures clearly explain the do’s and don’ts and why the details matter. The guide is comprehensive and easy to read, and has a list of resources at the end.

The story behind these guidelines began when Lend Lease commenced the development of Barangaroo South, Their policy was to to go beyond compliance – the bare minimum in access. They felt they could do better and strive for a universal design approach. With the assistance of Australian Network on Disability (AND) and Westpac, they developed Design for Dignity Guidelines: Principles for beyond compliance accessibility in urban regeneration.  An excellent resource for interior designers as well as urban planners.

Active Living Resources

Banner for Active Living NSW showing a beach scene and people walking on a tree lined promenade.The life of Active Living NSW has come to an end. Consequently, on 2 May, their website will be decommissioned. However, their resources are available on other websites. They are listed below for easy access, or you can download the PDF version of the list. Many resources are recent publications. All resources should be read with universal design and inclusion in mind. We cannot be active without an accessible built environment designed for everyone. 

Healthy Active by Design Website publications

All Heart Foundation built environment resources are available on the Heart Foundation website.

Australian Capital Territory

South Australia

If you would like a hard copy of a South Australian resource for professional practice, please send your details to the Senior Policy Advisor at sa@heartfoundation.org.au  

Green Open Space

When looking to improve streets the best return comes from urban trees and other greenery through their co-benefits for health, cooling, amenity and the environment.

Northern Territory

New South Wales

The scorecard and priority recommendations for Sydney builds upon the first baseline measure of liveability in Australia’s state and territory capitals, presented in Creating Liveable Cities in Australia.

This series of resources was developed for the NSW planning system by the Healthy Planning Expert Working Group between 2018-2019. Heart Foundation provides the secretariat function of this group. 

A baseline study of Healthy Eating and Active Living within NSW Local Government Community Strategic Plans and selected Delivery Programs

Western Australia

The Western Australian report reviews State Government liveability policies in Perth using a scorecard system to indicate where the city is meeting, exceeding, on par, or falling below its policy targets.


Urban Design Toolkit

View of Auckland cityscape and waterfront with piers and boatsThe Urban Design Toolkit is a practical manual explaining the what, the how and when of urban design processes. This New Zealand publication supports the implementation of their Urban Design Protocol. Each section is written in the same straightforward format with the same subheadings: What it is; What it’s useful for; How it’s done; followed by References. Some sections give examples as well.

The five key sections are Research and Analysis, Community Participation, Raising Awareness, Planning and Design, and Implementation. The Toolkit was originally published in 2006 and is now in its third edition. There is no specific mention of universal design in the Toolkit, but some elements are evident in the Urban Design Protocol

    • competitive places that thrive economically and facilitate creativity and innovation
    • liveable places that provide a choice of housing, work and lifestyle options
    • healthy environments that sustains people and nature
    • inclusive places that offer opportunities for all citizens
    • distinctive places that have a strong identity and sense of place
    • well-governed places that have a shared vision and sense of direction.

The first section begins with an accessibility audit, but it does not mention the inclusion of marginalised groups. However, if the principles of universal design are also considered within the framework of this Toolkit, it will add value to this excellent resource.

The Urban Design Toolkit is published by the New Zealand Ministry for the Environment, and is an online resource.