Universal Design and Planning Policy

Front cover of the book.Are your planning policies universally designed? In 1999 Norway turned the notion of universal design upside down. Gone is the idea that it is just about the design itself and the responsibility of the disability officer. Instead, universal design principles were placed at the heart of the planning process.That means everyone has to take responsibility. Their landmark approach to universal design still holds today.  

Olav Rand Bringa’s story on how this was done in Norway is reported in a 2007 publication. He explains how it worked and what still needs to be done. The title of the book chapter on page 97 is, “Making universal design work in zoning and regional planning: A Scandinavian approach”. The book is, Universal Design and Visitability: From Accessibility To Zoning

Bringa gives an overview of the processes needed to bring about a change in attitude from inclusion being a “social services job” to “everyone’s job”. His work is the forerunner to the landmark document “Norway Universally Designed by 2025“.

Bringa followed up with another update at a UD Conference in 2018 titled, “From Visions to Practical Policy: The Universal Design Journey in Norway. What Did We Learn? What Did We Gain? What Now?”  This is very useful as it is written with almost twenty years of experience and guidance for others. 

To be successful, universal design and inclusion cannot be patched in later. An important point when planners think that access and inclusion is the disability officer’s job or something to worry about as a “detail” for later. 

Other chapters in the book cover different areas. Although it was published in 2007, most topics are still current due to the slow movement on the issues. Included within the 9 chapters are: The Seven Principles of Universal Design in Planning Practice; Universal Design in Transportation; and Inclusive Housing and Neighbourhood Design.

Abstract:  Universal design may turn out to be the most innovative and significant development to reach the planning sphere in the past several decades. The strategy of universal design presents a holistic approach to how to deal with the interaction between humans and the environment. The core of this thinking revolves around the important issue of accessibility for people with reduced functionality based on equal opportunities and equal rights.

The Norwegian Government is currently in the process of integrating universal design perspectives into various aspects of national planning policy. This is a direct result of advances achieved through preliminary policy development and pilot projects over the last years. County and municipal plans comprise the main targets for the new initiatives, which address a number of issues in strategic planning and zoning. The process of integrating universal design into planning policy includes revising the Planning Act, expanding government impact assessment regulations, developing and issuing national policy guidelines, and raising the overall levels of professional competence.

This process brings to light new issues that need be discussed and clarified. What is the relationship between universal design, sustainable development, landscape development, and protection of the cultural heritage? Are the universal design principles consistent with the full scope of the definition of the concept?

Invisible and Ubiquitous: UD at its best

The entry to Stortinget metro in Olso showing the uncluttered design with easy access for everyone.Universal design can be embedded in refurbishments and upgrades without anyone noticing. Using a case study of a train station in Norway, Richard Duncan explains how it was done. Norway is a global leader in implementing UD strategies. Their landmark document, Norway Universally Designed by 2025, focuses on inclusive policies where everyone is made responsible. Two surveys from 2018 reveal a gradual change in attitude about universal design. More people understand the concept and agree with the principle of, “Universal design is necessary for some and useful for many”. 

Duncan’s article, Right Under Your Nose: Universal Design in Norway is an easy to read article and is based on Olav Rand Bringa’s work. There is more on this website about the work of Bringa that traces the history of universal design in Norway.

Universal Design and Visitability: From accessibility to zoning.  

Progress on Universal Design in Norway: A review 

Universal Design as a Technical Norm and Juridical Term – A Factor of Development or Recession? Bringa discusses the importance of language in the quest for inclusion.  

Photo by Olav Rand Bringa showing the improved and uncluttered entrance to the station.

Progress on UD in Norway: A review

Tall houses are reflected in the water.The houses are different colours, yellow, red and blueNorway’s planning policies are underpinned by the principles of universal design. With a focus on policy, not design detail, this means everyone has to think about inclusion and accessibility in everything they do. Olav Rand Bringa, author of the early reports and papers on universal design in Norway, writes a review of progress with Einar Lund.

In the introduction, they discuss the work and writings of British architect Selwyn Goldsmith that go back to 1963. The review asks the questions, What did we learn? and What did we Gain? In short, new buildings, outdoor environments, websites and more are all designed according to universal design. However, there is much left to do with the existing environment. The paper Picture of the front cover of the Norwegian Action Planconcludes with, “And Universal Design, will it remain a particular design-concept in the future or will it simply be what everyone associates with good design? We should have good reasons to expect the latter.”  Also of interest is the Nordic Charter for Universal Design initiated in 2011, and the main policy document, Norway Universally Designed 2025 that was updated in 2016.

Abstract: The national policy in Norway have since the last part of the 1990s been organized in programs that erected actions including national authorities, municipalities, regional authorities and private enterprises. What have we gained by our national activities to mainstream inclusive and accessibility policy for persons with reduced capability through the principles of Universal Design? Have we made society accessible to everyone and prevented discrimination. Are the results visible? We can measure results on several sectors, inter alia public buildings, outdoor areas, central communication hubs, public transport and the occurrence plans for Universal Design in municipalities and regions. Through several programs and action plans the Norwegian government has developed a sectoral approach for including persons with disabilities in the society. The majority of ministries have participated in these plans. Local initiatives, local councils for disabled people, and later on municipalities and county administrations were supported by national authorities as complements to regulations and laws. In addition, guidelines and assisting funds were used. The main objective was to redefine the national policy, using better defined national goals and introducing Universal Design to replace accessibility as the basic tool. The mainstreaming of the accessibility policy, where Universal Design was included in relevant sectors and activities, was a crucial part of the strategy. The national policy was organized in programs that erected actions focusing on how to reach, inspire and include municipalities and regional authorities in their own struggle for Universal Design. Through the mainstream approach ministries have both earmarked economic transfers to their own agencies and used steering documents guide to these agencies how to implement Universal Design in their advisory services, in practicing laws and regulations and in their own planning and building activities.

The full title of the paper is, From Visions to Practical Policy: The Universal Design Journey in Norway. What Did We Learn? What Did We Gain? What Now? 

R&D incentives for UD in housing: Norwegian experience

Drawing of a new development showing lots of apartment buildings with a park in the middleMaking small changes to housing design to create greater accessibility seems too difficult for the house building industry. That’s in spite of the many guidelines explaining what’s required. What would happen if there were financial incentives to have a home recognised as accessible or universally designed? This is the topic of an article from Norway.  It argues that grants can be a driving force for innovation in universal design and that this requires the collaboration of several different stakeholders. The research was funded by the Norwegian State Housing Bank.

The house building industry in Australia is a fragmented system. It relies on regulations, rules, and protocols to hold it together, this research recognises that collaboration is essential to innovation and improvements in design quality. 

View of a Norwegian waterfront with housing and the Aurora Borealis The article, Grant as a Driving Force for Innovation in Universal Design is by Tina Therese Larsen and Torben Blindheim from the Norwegian State Housing Bank, Norway.

The picture above is Pilestredet park development and the lower picture is a general waterfront scene in Norway showing the Aurora Borealis.

 

Norway universally designed by 2025 – Update

Top half of the front cover of the plan. The graphic is various shades of blue with a woman operating an automatic teller machineThe Norwegian Government has taken the principles of universal design and applied them across all policies to create maximum inclusion. This makes everyone responsible for inclusion at every level – in the built environment, outdoor areas, transport, and ICT. In 2008, the Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion, launched its first Action Plan 2009-2013, which sets the goal of Norway being universally designed by 2025. In 2010, Norway amended its Planning and Building Act to include universal Picture of the front cover of the Norwegian Action Plandesign. In 2016, The Delta Centre was given responsibility, and funding, to coordinate the actions in the 2015-2019 plan. This plan is more comprehensive and covers ICT and communications to a more detailed level. This is in recognition of how we are becoming more reliant on digital applications.