Understanding inclusion: How can we make it happen?

Shows the street of a new housing development with driveways for cars but no footpath for peopleArchitect Mary Ann Jackson has written a thoughtful article about built environment practitioners and their continued lack of understanding of our human diversity. She points out that little is known about the extent of inaccessibility and that legislation is all very well, but it doesn’t reflect the real lives of people. Her article explores the question of how might an understanding of models of disability and human rights inform the improvement of access at a neighbourhood scale? She argues that built environment practitioners must engage with users, with people with disability to inform their understanding of what makes (unintended) barriers to access and inclusion. Sadly, nearly forty years on from the Year of Persons with Disability we are still having this conversation – hence Mary Ann’s paper. You can download the full text from the link.  There are links to related articles on the page.

Ref: Jackson, M.A. Models of Disability and Human Rights: Informing the Improvement of Built Environment Accessibility for People with Disability at Neighborhood Scale? Laws 20187, 10.  


Pedestrians fast and slow

people stand on the footpath waiting to cross on the pedestrian crossing. The street is in JapanOlder people who walk slowly or unsteadily can find themselves bumped by faster walkers as they try to weave around them. This can be stressful for older people, particularly in crowded streets. A Japanese group think that a smartphone device could help this situation and their work is outlined in a conference paper. Regardless of whether a smartphone app would be of use, it is clear that this is an issue in some large cities. If being a slow walker in the midst of fast walkers is stressful it could stop some older people from getting out and about in such environments. Perhaps the answer is wider footpaths and narrower vehicle road space. The language used has not translated well, such as “wobbling elderly people”, but this is a new take on the issue of being about to get out and about. Here is a snippet from the paper:
“… it turns out that a lot of elderly people are physically challenged to realise the movement of pedestrians or bicycles approaching from the opposite direction. Moreover, it was found that there are a lot of elderly people who find it difficult to recognise the danger that they themselves pose to others. … Meanwhile, an elderly person with wobbly feet and weak balance begins to feel crowded while trying to walk at his own pace. However, unintentionally he ends up wandering to the left and right instead of walking straight. Hence, the situation requires other pedestrians to anticipate and react instantly to hinder a potential danger whether of a person walking fast, coming from the opposite direction, or of a passing bicycle speeding by the elderly person at a close distance.” 

Shows older Japanese people with wheelie walkers on the streetThe full title of the paper is, An information presentation system for wobbling elderly people and those around them in walking spaces. It is by Koshi Ogawa, Takashi Sakamoto, and Toshikazu Kato. 


Staying connected with “third places”

Two men tending a raised garden bed in a community garden. One is tipping up a wheelbarrow and the other is scraping out the soilThe 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. 



Applying UD principles to street design

busy street scene in Myeongdong South KoreaEver considered wind breaks for street design? Or making all car parking spaces wide enough for everyone to open the door fully? That would be a universal solution! In an observational study from South Korea, streets were evaluated and compared using the seven principles of universal design. Some of the common issues are reported, including the plan to be inclusive and accessible, but lost in translation when it comes to implementation. The paper looks like it has been translated to English, but the key points are evident – including considerations for tourists, which is something many cities are considering now. Also interesting from the point of view that UD is an international concept.



Is Australia Age Friendly yet?

An older woman walks on a bitumen path in a park. Two older men are sitting on a seat along the pathway.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. 


Neighbourhood design and older home owners

Neighbourhood Design, Judd et alEver wondered what people get up to in their retirement years? This slideshow, Neighbourhood Design and the Activities of Older Home Owners gives a good idea – visiting family and friends and medical appointments top the list. The presentation discusses  the barriers and facilitators of neighbourhood activity older people encounter in their day to day life. Footpaths, or lack thereof, featured as a key issue. It also covers the other main components of being able to get out and about – public transport, street furniture, wayfinding, public toilets, handrails on stairs, safety and security. The presentation has lots of explanatory graphs and is based on research by Bruce Judd, Diana Olsberg, Joanne Quinn and Oya Demirbilek from UNSW.  


How smart are smart cities?

The use of the term “smart city” can mean different things to different people. Perhaps using the perspective of accessibility as a measure of liveability is one way to find out how smart a city is. In the introduction to Urban and Building Accessibility Diagnosis using ‘Accessibility App’ in Smart Cities: A Case Study  the authors say, “One of the most important aspects that influence the liveability of cities is the ability to be an inclusive city. Thus, Smart Cities require an inclusive urban life, and they are characterized by being accessible cities”.  The article describes a method of using ICT to analyse and diagnose the accessibility of buildings and urban environment. In applying the methodology, one feature emerged many times as an issue – heavy doors. The method is explained in detail.

The article is by Raquel Pérez-delHoyo, María Dolores Andújar-Montoya, Higinio Mora
and Virgilio Gilart-Iglesias, and was downloaded from ResearchGate.  


Neuroscience for Architecture

A handful of architects and designers are now looking at design from the perspective of how the brain responds to the built environment. Amelia Taylor-Hochberg begins her article about the evolution of neuroscience with,

” “I know it when I see it,” the crucial phrase used by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart to describe “hardcore” pornography in a landmark 1964 obscenity case, may very handily be applied in the disciplines of architecture and urban design. Operating in the necessarily messy environment of cities, architects and urban designers are trained to recognize and create environments that support functional, thriving human lives. For the most part, that education is geared toward the aesthetic and the sociological – observation, theoretical texts and case studies help inform students of what makes quality urbanism, so that they may become the trusted professionals who can say with authority, “I know it when I see it.” But a particular slice of the design academy craves a more scientific, evidence-based approach – and believe that the holy grail of quantitative rigor is just emerging, in the form of neuroscience.”

With more recognition of people with different cognitive approaches, and conditions such as acquired brain injury, research into neuroscience and the built environment is now essential for inclusive world.


Housing and neighbourhood: perceptions of age-friendliness

UPicture taken at twilight of a building with the name New Town Plaza with Chinese characters underneath. There is a large paved area in the foreground and a few people near the buildingsing focus groups and a survey, researchers looked at perceptions of age-friendliness in an established Hong Kong new town, which may not be that new as they started building them in 1950s. They looked at homes and the neighbourhood. The title is: A study of housing typology and perceived age-friendliness in an established Hong Kong new town: A person-environment perspective. Perceptions of the built environment can make a difference in terms of feeling welcome and able to get out and about, and to prevent isolation. You will need institutional access for a free read from Science Direct.

Abstract: Our study examines older people’s perceptions towards the urban environment and their spatial experiences through a person-environment perspective. We argue that Person-Environment (P-E) fit is critical to older people’s quality of life: positive environmental stimuli and personal adaptation competence have been held to influence this fit, and quality of fit will eventually affect interactions between older people and place. In a mixed-methods study, a context sensitive place audit was applied to a new town in Hong Kong, with a view to identifying strengths and weaknesses in the built environment and older people’s own strategies of living. Through 302 questionnaires and three focus groups with older participants, the results revealed high appreciation of outdoor spaces, transportation and social participation. The findings also indicate a strong association between housing typology and perceived age-friendliness. People accommodated in public housing estates tended to accord higher scores to their living environment although social exclusion was identified among oldest-old respondents in particular. Older people’s affective links with their living environment across time and their unique life-course experiences may help to explain their relatively relaxed attitudes when they face changes and hardships.  


Keeping everyone active in urban space

landscape view of tower buildings in the distance and green parkland in the foregroundNew ideas are evolving on ways to activate public space. Formal and informal spaces are discussed in Activating Public Space: How to Promote Physical Activity in Urban Environments by Malgorzata Kostrzewska. Examples used are from Australia, UK, and Poland. In the latter part of the article the author discusses design ideas for activating space. Controversially, the she says design should be based on tolerance rather than exclusion of unwanted behaviours, “Instead of introducing numerous prohibitive signs (against skateboarding, parkour, ball games, etc.), it is better to seek a compromise concerning terms of use of the space specified by all the stakeholders in the course of workshop meetings and their participation in the design process. The compromise solutions already in existence (e.g. in Warsaw) confirm that if all the parties acknowledge their respective needs, they will understand and respect each other.” The conclusion section lists the most important spatial features to consider in any urban design.