Gay neighbourhoods: an urban typology?

Three young men lead a street march with rainbow banners. It's a gay pride event.Last century lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) individuals felt the need to band together for safety in numbers. Some argue that successive human rights legislation has lessened the need for this to continue. Or has it? The notion that gay neighbourhoods are no longer needed is premature. Other neighbourhoods based on ethnicity or socio-economic factors haven’t completely disappeared, and neither have gay neighbourhoods.

Alex Bitterman discusses the lack of academic documentation and research on gay neighbourhoods. These neighbourhoods will likely continue and be important to future generations of LGBT residents and families. He argues that gay neighbourhoods are neither dying nor flourishing – just existing – in the same way as any other typology. Gay neighbourhoods will also need to adapt to other trends such as gentrification and affordability. The notion that gay neighbourhoods are self-sustaining, or that they are diminishing is erroneous. 

Bitterman concludes his essay; “Through unglamorous scholarly inquiry, the true account of the evolution and trajectories of gay neighbourhoods will be revealed. To better understand the longitudinal progression of gay neighbourhoods, researchers should endeavour to differentiate between well-established gay neighbourhoods and emerging gaybourhoods, carefully studying the trends and demographics that lead to shifting LGBT populations and changes in gay neighbourhoods. This evolution, occurring in plain sight but largely undocumented, is LGBT history in the making and the opportunity to chronicle these unique and important changes is ours to lose.”

The title of the online essay is, Rainbow diaspora: the emerging renaissance of gay neighbourhoods.  You can also download a PDF copy


Inclusive approach to public toilet design

Front cover of the report showing a young woman holding up a floor plan drawing of a toilet.Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) is a basic human right for everyone. And there are both technical and social dimensions to consider. The Australian Government funded a four year project in Eastern Indonesia to improve the lives of women and people with disability by focusing on improving access to public toilets. The project report outlines the issues, the context and how the researchers developed an inclusive participatory action research (PAR) approach. 

There is significant learning from this project, particularly about their inclusive PAR method. It shows how the method can be applied to any marginalised group. The learning as it applies to women and people with disability are listed and include: attentive listening, accommodating differences in language, meaning and ability, building on individual differences, and encouraging creative expression and being flexible.

The recommendations include being open about the risks, challenges and failures of a PAR project; moving towards more transformative ways of working with marginalised people, and engaging in inclusive dialogue about concerns and contextual issues with all stakeholders.

When it comes to public infrastructure, the humble toilet is essential. No matter where you live in the world, they are essential for getting out and about. For many, toilets make or break any activity outside the home – they are the deciding factor about where to go and how long to stay out.

The title of the report is, Participatory Action Research (PAR) In Practice – WASH for Women and People with Disabilities

Project partners included Plan International Australia, Water for Women, and Edge Effect.

Dementia design and equality

An older woman with white hair holds a bouquet of flowers to her face. Her eyes indicate she is smiling.People with dementia are not always seen as having the same human rights as other people with disability. So design for dementia is often viewed as an added extra to existing disability requirements. To help facilitate a better understanding, the World Health Organization published a guide on human rights and dementia. An article from the UK builds on these issues and provides recommendations for policy, practice and research. 

The title of the article is, Accessible design and dementia: A neglected space in the equality debate.

The article can be accessed from Sage Journals, but you’ll need institutional access, and via ResearchGate where you can ask for a free copy of the paper.

Abstract: This paper addresses the issue of accessible design in the context of dementia. It is not difficult to design buildings and outside spaces for people with dementia but you do have to follow clear design principles and values. However, unlike other disabilities, accessible dementia design is still viewed as an added extra and not a vital component of facilitating citizenship. In 2015, the World Health Organisation published guidance on human rights and dementia. People living with dementia are frequently denied their human rights even when regulations are in place to uphold them. This paper will focus on accessible design from a human rights perspective using the PANEL principles. PANEL stands for Participation, Accountability, Non-Discrimination and Equality, Empowerment and Legality. We will then conclude with recommendations for policy, practice and research to ensure that accessible design for people living with dementia does not continue to be a neglected space in the equality debate.

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.

A non-Western look at inclusive cities

The very tall tower buildings form the city skyline in Dubai.The story of Dubai, as with any living city, continues to be written day by day. And that includes disability rights and inclusion. “Building the Inclusive City: Governance, Access and the Urban Transformation of Dubai” is a book that provides a contemporary history of disability in city planning from a non-Western perspective. From the abstract:

“Three insights inform the author’s approach. First, disability research, much like other urban or social issues, must be situated in a particular place. Second, access and inclusion forms a key part of both local and global planning issues. Third, a 21st century planning education should take access and inclusion into consideration by applying a disability lens to the empirical, methodological, and theoretical advances of the field. By bridging theory and practice, this book provides new insights on inclusive city planning and comparative urban theory. This book should be read as part of a larger struggle to define and assert access; it’s a story of how equity and justice are central themes in building the cities of the future and of today.”

Building the Inclusive City: Governance, Access and the Urban Transformation of Dubai by Victor Santiago Pineda is available for purchase in the usual places, but is also available as open access on ResearchGate

Editor’s note: I travelled to Dubai in 2015 and found much of the new infrastructure very accessible. I was impressed with the air conditioned bus stop shelters. 

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.


Does universal design cost more in buildings?

xxxSupporters of universal design have long argued that it costs little, if any more, to make buildings inclusive and accessible. However, myths about cost remain and are perpetuated across the construction industry. A feasibility study by HCMA Architecture + Design for the Rick Hansen Foundation in Canada makes another attempt at the argument. In their report, they compare the Foundation’s certification features with Canada’s building code. Then they determine the cost increase by designing to the Foundation’s certification.

The key finding is similar to others. The average new construction cost increase is estimated to be an additional 1% of the construction in some cases. In others, there is no cost. But there is more to this research which reports on three certification levels and several design elements. The other key point is that the building code alone does not make buildings fully accessible. 

There are lots of graphs and drawings and it looks very technical. There are case studies across public, commercial and residential properties. This is a major piece of work at 80 pages with another 200 pages for appendices. Bottom line: the Canadian and Ontario building codes do not meet the needs of people with disability, and accessibility can be achieved with minimal cost impact with thoughtful/universal design. 

There is a very readable (simplified) news article in the Canadian Architect magazine, titled, Inclusive and Accessible Buildings Can be Constructed at No Additional Cost.  Or you can download the full research report, Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification Cost Comparison Feasibility Study.


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.

The feel of architecture

A bird's eye view of the main part of the State Library of Victoria showing long desks radiating out like spokes in a wheel.Some people are more sensitive to the feel of places than others, and this can have a negative impact on well-being. This is an aspect of universal design and inclusion. So, how does it feel when you walk into your local library, or hospital?  Civic buildings are becoming industrial mega-structures, and designing the feel of the building is getting lost. That’s according to Professor Alan Pert. His article in The Conversation begins a discussion about the feel of architecture in a hospital setting. Then he moves onto other civic and public buildings.

The title of the article is Build me up: how architecture can affect emotions. There are links to other interesting articles. Libraries shouldn’t be just about books, and hospitals shouldn’t totally focus on sickness. They should at the very least, make us feel welcome and comfortable, and that includes being accessible and welcoming to everyone.

The noblest architecture can sometimes do less for us than a siesta or an aspirin … Even if we could spend the rest of our lives in the Villa Rotunda or the Glass House, we would still often be in a bad mood. – Alain de BottonThe Architecture of Happiness.


Homes of 2030

A woman stands holding a sheet of paper with her statement of what Home 2030 should be. A whiteboard with lots of post it notes is behind her.The Design Council in the UK ran a workshop to ask participants to think about the future and their homes. They presented a series of scenarios based on experts ideas about our living arrangements. There was a call for human contact, and for the public and private outdoor spaces and gardens by the homes. The group also wanted to see whole neighbourhoods that were “self-sufficient, sustainable and communal”. Homes would be “safe, comfortable and warm, for all the family from the cradle to the grave”. 

It is good to see that the concept of home does not end at the property boundary, but merges into the neighbourhood. It’s not clear who the participants were, how they were recruited, or what groups were represented. This is an ongoing project and it will be interesting to see if inclusive design gets a mention or whether getting older is outside the participants’ frame of reference. The title of the article is Our Home of 2030