A case study in creating universally designed urban spaces is a good way to showcase how it is done. Universal Design: New York 2 is not a new publication, but the principles are still relevant.It provides guidance for all aspects of an urban environment as well as temporary lodging, workplace facilities and human service facilities. The guide is comprehensive covering circulation systems, wayfinding, seating, public amenities, cultural facilities, renovations and additions, and more. It also lists seven myths about universal design and shows how they are just myths:
1. There are only a small number of people who benefit 2. Universal design only helps people with disability and older people 3. Legislation for disability rights have created equality, so no need to do more 4. Improved medical technology is reducing the incidence of functional limitation 5. Universal design cannot sustain itself in the marketplace because the people who need it most cannot afford it 6. Universal design is simply good ergonomic design 7. Universal design costs even more than accessible design
It’s time to move away from the word “placemaking” to “making place” and “making space”. This concept is discussed from an Indigenous Australian context in a book chapter titled, There’s No Place Like (Without) Country. Making place and making space allows for a view of spatial histories, claiming and reclaiming sites, and to uncover stories that are often overlooked in urban design practice. This is an academic text in, Placemaking Fundamentals for the Built Environment, and you will need institutional access for a free read. It includes an example of the authors’ experience at the Sydney Olympic Park site. Sydney Olympic Park has documented some of the local Indigenous history.
Introduction: “In this chapter, we critique traditional placemaking approaches to site, through the Indigenous Australian concept of Country. We contest that a move away from the word ‘placemaking’ is overdue. We instead propose a practice of ‘making place’, and further ‘making space’ (i) that allows overlooked spatial (hi)stories to reclaim sites that they have always occupied, and (ii) for the very occupants and stories that are ordinarily overlooked in urban and spatial design practice. To do so is to accept that we must look to those marginal occupants, practices and writings that challenge the gendered, heteronormative, white, neuro-typical and colonising discourses that dominate architecture. Placemaking practices employ community consultation, privileging local stories and quotidian ways-of-being in response. It is our position, that even these ‘community-engaged’ processes perpetuate erasure and marginalisation precisely through their conceptualisations of ‘Site’ and what constitutes community. We present a model for an Indigenous/non-Indigenous collaboration that offers methods of spatially encountering site within a colonial context. We share our experiences of a project that we collaboratively produced in the Badu Mangroves at Sydney Olympic Park, to share the overlooked spatial histories and cultures of countless millennia. We have woven together Indigenous epistemologies, ontologies and axiologies, and design-as-research methodology.
The American Society of Landscape Architects has a guide to universally designed streets. Green, complete streets, which incorporate green infrastructure and safely separate pedestrians, bicyclists, vehicles, and public transport, use strategies to reduce reckless driving behaviour, rather than designing around the most reckless driver. Each of the topics below is explained in greater detail in the Guide. There is also a video (below) showing how people with autism or who are neurodiverse can find streets and public places overwhelming. The same can be said for people who are hard of hearing. The picture from the Guide is of Bell Street Park, Seattle.
Wide sidewalks and pathways
Areas for socializing
Clearly defined spaces
Attenuated acoustic environment
Places of enclosure
Perpendicular tactile paving
Pedestrian safety islands
Frequent seating with arms
Well-lit and consistent lighting
Autistic people can be overstimulated by the amount of sensory information that is present in the built environment. This video offers insight into what this sensory overload can be like for autistic people.
It’s amazing what can be done when GPS data is linked to population data. The Danish study used satellite data to show a link between growing up near green space and issues with mental health in adulthood. They found that children under 10 years who had greater access to green space may grow up to be happier adults. The FastCo article goes on to say that data was correlated between the child’s proximity to green space during childhood and that same person’s mental health later in life. The more green space they had access to, the less likely they were to have mental health issues later.
We need a broader term than walkable to explain how everyone can be actively mobile in the community, says Lloyd Alter. In his blog article he adds that unless you are “young and fit and have perfect vision and aren’t pushing a stroller… many streets aren’t walkable at all…” Alter takes his point from a new book where other terms are coined:
Rollability. Walkability isn’t enough anymore
Strollerability, for people with kids
Walkerability, for older people pushing walkers
Seeability, for the vision impaired
Seatability – places to sit down and rest
Toiletability – places to go to the bathroom.
“All of these contribute to making a city useable for everyone. So we need a broader term for this” says Alter. His suggestions are activemobility, or activeability to cover all the ways different people get around in cities. He says he is open to suggestions for a better word. I thought Universal Design would cover all of the above.
There are links to other articles related to this topic such as street furniture designed for discomfort, and how investment in public toilets would reap many benefits.
Why do people ignore pedestrian crossings and jaywalk instead? Probably because crossings are placed to suit traffic flows not pedestrians. And if every step you take is painful or difficult, a short cut looks even more encouraging. John Rennie Short provides a magazine version of his academic article about how urban design in the US is killing pedestrians and cyclists. In the article he claims, “Across the nation, cyclist fatalities have increased by 25% since 2010 and pedestrian deaths have risen by a staggering45%. More people are being killed because cities are encouraging residents to walk and bike, but their roads are still dominated by fast-moving vehicular traffic. This shifting mix can be deadly.”
The article on FastCo has a video showing how pedestrians are jaywalking across four lanes of traffic. The most worrying of all is a woman using a wheelie-walker. The article sets out the issues and proposes some solutions. Of course, we need universally designed roads, street crossings and footpaths.
The University of Toronto Magazine is about cities. It has four feature articles and accessibility is one of them. The article is a personal story of a father who asks what would a city without barriers look like? The question comes because his daughter is a wheelchair user. He lists six disabling things apart from steps and stairs. First is the issue of garbage bins littering the walkway after collection; the second is finding someone who is responsible for operating portable ramps; help buttons in the wrong place or need excessive force; broken and uneven footpaths; a loose piece of carpeting; and narrow footpaths that don’t allow people to pass. The article is written by Professor Ron Buliung, who is a transportation researcher, and that is his research question: What would a city without barriers look like? The article begins on page 24. Other articles on city living are about sustainability, having fun, and affordability.
Richard Voss writes in Linked In about the necessity to take a universal design approach to urban design and infrastructure, especially as more people will be living longer and potentially living longer with some type of disability or health issue. He poses five ways to improve accessibility in the built environment which are explained in the article:
Incentivise future proofing in accessibility
Realise that we all need inclusive design
Combine common sense with building codes
Create a new innovation industry around accessibility
Set achievable target for each development sector
Voss concludes, “In my view the industry is well placed to tackle the Universal Design challenges ahead if we base our designs on the projected demographic. Often Universal Design principles can be included at no extra cost, if implemented early in the design process. If we act collectively as practitioners, researchers and legislators, then we will have diverse and integrated patterns of living in our cities.”
Editor’s Comment: Nice sentiments, which have been discussed time and again by UD converts, but we still see little change when in comes to thinking and designing for our future selves. Also note the interchangeable use of universal design, inclusive design and accessibility.
A city only for children and older people and all other age groups are welcome on visitor passes? What would such a city look like? A good question because having a visitor pass to your own city is what it feels like to groups who have not been considered in the design. The article, Diversity and belonging in the city comes from the Urban Design and Mental Health Journal. Erin Sharp Newton.poses various human perspectives on the city, urban form, architecture and design. A somewhat philosophical piece, but a step away from the usual thinking.
Some major cities have neighbourhood lots that lay vacant for some time. It seems that a small investment in a fence and some grass can make quite a difference to the people that live nearby. The article,The case for building $1,500 parks, reports on a new study shows that access to “greened” vacant lots can reduce feelings of worthlessness and depression, especially in low-resource neighbourhoods. Using radomised control trials, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania observed cause and effect between access to green vacant lots and improved mental health. There were other benefits too such as decreased violence. The picture shows the before and after effect – simple and cost effective solutions. To find out more go to the article on the FastCompany website by Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan. The original research report can be found in JAMA Network Open. Looks are everything.