Designing parks that people use

A young woman and man are walking their dog in an urban park.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. 

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Sea Change or Urban Uplift?

long view of a Perth city mall with shops and cafes under awnings and trees for shade. Tall buildings are in the backgroundA thoughtful article from an architectural group about ageing in the urban context. While some retirees will seek a sea change to resort-style living, others want to stay connected to their families and established neighbourhoods. The article critiques the age-restricted model and proposes alternatives, one of which is flexibility of design across the housing market so that people can receive care at home when it is needed. This fits with the principles of universal design as outlined in the Livable Housing Design Guidelines at Gold level. Other key points are inter-generational interaction, connectivity, inclusion, and proximity to conveniences. A good article on Aged Care Insite from an architect’s perspective. 

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Technology and smart cities for everyone

graphic showing hand drawn and coloured buildings in a child-like format.If you ignore the medical perspective of this article and the language, that starts with the title, “The future holds smart habitats for people with special needs”, there are some interesting ideas about smart cities and technology for everyone. The article provides some examples of how technology can enable the creation of smart living environments for people living a health condition or disability. The article is published in the Medical Futurist website, so the next step will be to have the journalist take a social view of people with disability. Special Needs? No, the same needs as everyone only designers aren’t inclusive with their designs. “Suffering from…?” No, living with …   “THE elderly”? No. Not an homogeneous faceless group. Need more talk of mainstream and inclusion instead of othering. However, for particular disabilities assistive technologies are necessary, but are often good for everyone. 

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Neighbourhood fun for everyone

A suburban street in Bristol with cars parked on both sides of the road. Children are playing in the street.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.

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The compassionate city

A brick terrace house fronts the footpath and has lots of pot plants in front of it.The Dutch idea of the Woonerf has been picked up again, this time by Jenny Donovan of La Trobe University. Using some graphics, she shows how design can affect our decisions to either walk, drive, use public transport or not, and whether you feel welcome in the environment. She covers the key elements of a Compassionate City where various design elements can meet the needs of a range of people and create more harmonious behaviours. There are several links in the article to other related reports and articles. The article originates from The Conversation.  

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Compression and depression

View from high building in Brisbane overlooking building roofs and the Brisbane river and bridges. Jacaranda trees can be seen in the street.Compressed urban footprints might be related to higher rates of depression. Drawing a long bow here? Maybe not. In, Mind over matter: The restorative impact of perceived open space, the authors argue that the loss of natural open space could be having a detrimental affect on mental health: “By 2050 three out of four people will live in urban environments.This premium on open space will reduce vital access to the healing effects of undisturbed nature”. The article by David Navarrete and Bill Witherspoon discusses some of the neuroscience about enclosed spaces, lack of natural light and other factors and how they relate to our perceptions of the world around us. There are references for further reading at the end of the article. The article was posted on the Conscious Cities website.

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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

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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. 

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