Urban planning competitions – involving residents

People sit around round tables discussing questions. There are four round tables shown in this pictureIt’s time for planning competitions to have residents involved in the decisions about what the best planning solutions are, not just a select panel of judges. Planning competitions are used as a way to determine alternatives and promote innovative solutions in the early phase of urban planning. The book  New Approaches, Methods, and Tools in Urban E-Planning, has an interesting chapter that outlines the findings of how e-participation can be implemented in urban planning competitions. You will need institutional access for a free read. The chapter is “Enhancing E-Participation in Urban Planning Competitions”.
Planning competitions are used as a way to determine alternatives and promote innovative solutions in the early phase of urban planning. However, the traditional jury-based evaluation process is encountering significant opposition, as it does not consider Front cover of the book New Approaches methods and Tools in Urban E Planningthe views of local residents. This chapter describes how web-based public participation tools are utilized in urban planning competitions to register public opinion alongside the expert view given by the jury. The research focus of this chapter is on studying how public participation can be arranged in competition processes, how the contestants use the information produced, and how it has been utilized in further planning of the area. Based on two Finnish case studies, this study indicates that web-based tools can augment public participation in the competition process. However, the results indicate that the impact of participation on selecting the winner is weak. Instead, in further planning of the area, the public opinions are valuable.  


Weathering the weather

A wet roadway with reflections of traffice and buildings and a person's legs walkingIf you think that the weather is something people just cope with while getting on with their lives, it might be time to think again. A new study has found that the weather has a significant impact on urban walkability.  Itai Palti explains in his article that while the elements of many cities are very similar, only some take the weather into consideration in urban design. He compares rainy London with rainy Kyoto, and points out that London seems not to care about the rain in urban design, whereas Kyoto does. The article refers to an international study, The effect of weather conditions on the seasonal variation of physical activity. It provides some interesting data on weather and walkability. While it might seem obvious that people don’t go out in the rain or heat waves, it is good to see some actual data. There are lots of links to other information in Itai Palti’s article.

How weather affects the experience of the city


Urban design for the not-so-average

Wide footpath in a shopping strip which has a veranda overhead. There are planter boxes and a seat.How fast can you get across a pedestrian crossing? The Department of Health says the average walking speed required is 1.2 metres per second, but the average speed of the older pedestrian is just 0.7 to 0.9 metres per second, according to an article in The Guardian. Cities are still being designed with a mythical average person in mind, but this so-called average is getting older. Have designers updated their data on this? The article goes on to discuss many issues that have been mentioned elsewhere: older people having problems getting outdoors; time to sit down; a bus driver who lets you sit before moving off; and of course, uneven pavements – or no pavements at all. Across the world 258 cities have signed up to the World Health Organisation’s Global Network of Age Friendly Cities. One has to ask “only 258?” A good article questioning the approaches of urban designers. It has links to other useful references. 


Environments in an Ageing Society

Front cover of the publication.White background with purple line graphics and textThis year the topic for the annual review of Gerontology and Geriatrics is Environments in an Ageing Society: Autobiographical Perspectives. The contributors have long-standing research careers – some are well known in Australia: Edward Steinfeld, Jon Pynoos, Laura Gitlin, Susanne Iwarsson, and Sheila Peace. The chapters cover home, neighbourhood, ageing in place, and social change. Each chapter is written from the researcher’s perspective providing reflections of their experience and learning. As an academic publication you will need institutional access for a free read, or you can purchase chapters separately. Here is the introduction:

Through the autobiographical perspectives of 16 preeminent researchers and scholars of Environmental Gerontology, this state-of-the-art Annual Review critically examines the broad range of topics that comprise this interdisciplinary field. The writings of these individuals, who have contributed to and shaped the growth of the field over the past three-plus decades, trace the growth and evolution of Environmental Gerontology and provide understanding of, and insights on, the role of environments for older adults and an aging society at multiple levels.    


Inclusion in the chemistry lab

Two students look on while the teacher shows how to dissect an animal. They are wearing gloves and safety glassesThree articles were published in Accessibility in the Laboratory about creating inclusion in school and research laboratories. Good to see this topic discussed as it broadens our thinking about universal design and where it needs to be applied (that is, everywhere). The first is about accommodating students with disability in chemistry teaching laboratories. This is especially important now that the STEM subjects are being promoted and encouraged. The second is focused on the modifications that labs might need to undertake. They include people with reduced hand strength in their discussions. The third is about invisible, or not readily observable, disabilities that need to be considered. They discuss stigma and other challenges students face in the lab. Each chapter can be purchased separately if you don’t have institutional access for a free read. The book is published by the American Chemical Society. Here are the full titles:

Laboratory Safety for All: Accommodating Students with Disabilities in Chemistry Teaching Laboratories

Accommodating Persons with Physical Disability in the Lab

Hidden or invisible disabilities and Laboratory Accommodations  


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.