Public parks can work their magic only if they give what people they need. People use green spaces in cities in different ways depending on their community’s historical experience and cultural standards. Access to parks is strongly linked with better health outcomes so it is important to design them in context. But the mere existence of a park does not ensure a community benefits from it. In an article for The Conversation, Thaisa Way covers the history of parks, importance of easy access and cultural relevance. Lots of links to research papers within the article titled: “Parks work for cities, but only if people use them”. And that is a question of design.
Access to play spaces can improve mental well-being as children grow up according to an article, by Alice Covatta . She argues that there is a connection between lack of play and the rise of mental health conditions. The way we design our urban areas has an impact on play in outdoor locations and this in turn either encourages or discourages play. The article expands on these concepts and uses case studies to highlight the issues and the solutions and introduce play as sustainable design. The article comes from the latest edition of Urban Design and Mental Health, which has several interesting articles.
NSW Government has published a guide to taking a universal design approach to play spaces, Everyone Can Play.
The design of parks and playgrounds are often considered from the perspective of children and younger adults. But what about older adults? An Australian study by Stephen Gibson looked at this issue and found that the motivations to visit parks differed between older and younger adults. Natural environment, and park amenity was the strongest predictor of encouraging older adults to visit parks. The recommendation is that park design must be specific to older adults to entice and encourage them to visit. The title of the article in Landscape and Urban Planning is,” “Let’s go to the park.” An investigation of older adults in Australia and their motivations for park visitation”. You will need institutional access for a free read.
Of course, taking the perspective of older adults does not exclude other age groups.Toilets, seating, shade, level footways, and wayfinding are good for everyone.
Abstract: What motivates older adults to visit and use parks? Do older adults access parks for different reasons than younger adults? Prior studies determine age influences park visitation, but we know little about why. Older adults are particularly disadvantaged if their specific needs, preferences, or constraints in frequenting parks are not considered as lack of visitation and potential health decline result.
Referencing self-determination theory from the social psychology literature, this study focuses on fulfillment of autonomy, competence, and relatedness needs in older adults as a precursor to motivation for park visitation. To build deeper understanding of older adult motivation to visit and use parks, the study develops and tests a theoretical model of motivation for park visitation using quantitative methods to investigate psychological needs in the motivation to visit parks and elements of parks required to satisfy these needs.
Providing support for hypothesized relationships in the model, findings indicate that older adults differ from younger adults in the level and type of motivation to visit parks. Specifically, older adults are motivated to revisit parks that fulfill their autonomy needs. Natural environment, a common park amenity, was the strongest predictor of autonomy need fulfillment in older adults, followed by location elements of convenience and community. Finally, results indicated that when older adult autonomy needs are fulfilled, park revisitation is likely. Results confirm that park design must be specific to older adults to entice visitation.
Walkability is discussed as the solution to keeping people active and engaged in their community. I have heard it said by health enthusiasts that we “have to have steps and stairs because that is good exercise”. Well it might be for some, but not for others. A research study on stairs and older people concludes that the presence of stairs “may deter older persons (and others) from walking outdoors.” The study was a systematic review of the literature. The full article is available online from BMC Public Health. Or you can download the PDF. The title is “Examining the relationships between walkability and physical activity among older persons: what about stairs?” by Nancy Edwards and Joshun Dulai.
Playground equipment design needs to keep pace with current expectations to be more inclusive. So a method for predicting the degree of exclusion in play activities is welcome. Researchers in Italy have taken this task on board and in their article they explain what they have done so far to measure inclusion and exclusion in play equipment and actitivies. This is a SpringerLink article and will need institutional access for a free read. The paper was published in Advances in Design for Inclusion. The title of the article is, “Playgrounds for All: Practical Strategies and Guidelines for Designing Inclusive Play Areas for Children”. It’s worth remembering the inclusion of parents, carers and grandparents in the design too.
Abstract: To date, outdoor game equipment and playground facilities worldwide are increasingly oriented towards a wide range of solutions in support to gaming activities for children of any age, independently from their motor, cognitive and social impairments. However, due to the complexity of variables interplaying between product demands and user capabilities, many efforts are still needed for making games and playgrounds as much as possible inclusive. The present work proposes a novel methodology useful to designers and other stakeholders for predicting the degree of user exclusion when performing play activities. User trials, focus groups, interviews together with the analysis of accessibility standards, disability descriptors by ICF, and Task Analysis were used for cross-correlating the required tasks with user capabilities. This led to creating an evaluation tool useful to get an immediate feedback and reliable information on the level of inclusiveness of any type of game equipment and user disability. It revealed to be also effective for assessing personal and environmental factors of interest and identifying design requirements.
Roadways take up a lot of land. Time to make that land more flexible for more than just vehicles. The video below shows how closing down a residential street for two hours can produce a lot more activity just for people, not people in cars. The video explains how this has reduced obesity and social isolation. It also shows how it can become an inclusive space for everyone. When there is an inclusive communal space at your front door there is no excuse not to get involved. See the video for how this idea got started. Would be good to see more of it. But as always, it takes a leader to get it going. Would, or do councils in Australia support this initiative? This looks like a cost effective method for tackling childhood obesity.
The voices of children are rarely heard in research literature. So the Launceston Children’s Views of Play Spaces report is good to see. The researchers believe that children are competent social beings and have a right to be heard. The report’s findings detail what the children wanted from a playspace. Socialisation was a key theme. Children wanted activities they could do with their parents as well as other children. So equipment that could be used by both adults and children were popular ideas. The research covers all aspects of design including, active play, imaginative play, challenging activities and risk taking. With a focus on wellbeing the report provides a good underpinning for playspace design that incorporates the importance of play in the lives of both children and parents. For more on inclusive playspaces see the Touched by Olivia Foundation which has several good examples. Also the Good Play Space Guide by the Victorian Government.
In this case study, landscape architect Johan Østengen, explains the problem of adapting a city space and a heritage wall and gate on a sloping site into a pleasant place to walk, and to have informal get-togethers. The height difference of seven metres was the main challenge, but with some universal design thinking to drive the design they were able to come up with a successful inclusive and accessible design. For more of this story about this universally designed open space and the difficulties they had to overcome, go to the Inclusive Design Norway website for the article on the Schandorff Walkway. Several photos illustrate the final design.
Editor’s Note: Norway has almost no flat land and is at the forefront of rolling out universal design everywhere. So the myth that you can’t do UD on sloping sites is put to bed.
Lots of pictures tell the story of inclusive play in this article from Turkey. The concept of inclusive play spaces is not new to Australia. The article is comprehensive and goes into some of the details that need to be considered including ground treatments. Interestingly, the Australian invention, Liberty Swing, makes an appearance in the article. It has lost popularity in Australia because it is not inclusive. It is, however, accessible for wheelchair users under supervision, but as it is fenced off and needs a key to operate, other designs have taken favour with designers and play space users. And that goes beyond just swings. Nevertheless, in certain circumstances, such as group homes, the Liberty Swing can be appropriate. Examples from America and Australia are used and there are links to other resources in the reference list. One that has lots of information and pictures is the Together We Play website. For more on Australian inclusive play spaces, see Touched by Olivia Foundation.The NSW Government is actively promoting inclusive play spaces with its Everyone Can Play in NSW Project.
Parks Victoria is leading the way with their approach to making sure all visitors can enjoy the natural environment on their park trails in the Dandenong Ranges. Volunteers act as Sherpas and use specially designed equipment that provides a comfortable ride for wheelchair users. The equipment can be borrowed by family members and friends as long as they have the strength and fitness to operate it. The program is also available in the Gampians. The short video below gives a good idea of the equipment and the user experience. There is also an article and more pictures on the ABC website. Thanks to Bill Forrester’s blog for this one.