Talking about universal design is all very well, but it takes collective action to make it happen. Collective action for accessible and inclusive cities requires everyone to get on board and work together. And “everyone” means governments at all levels, urban planners and designers, construction companies, contractors and tradespeople. Everyone also means citizens and this is where co-design methods come in.
Two case studies form the basis of a research paper on two regional centres in Australia. One is in Geelong in Victoria and the other in Bunbury, Western Australia. The authors describe the collaborative and action oriented process in both studies.
A note of caution. Many local governments have little power over developments that not funded by them limiting what they can achieve. Private and commercial developers can legally challenge any requirements beyond the building codes.
Recommendations for both centres emerged from the research process. The key recommendation is to use a co-design and co-research process. The authors take a universal design to the whole process and recommendations. They also call for enhanced standards including mandating co-design.
The title of the paper is, Accessible and Inclusive Cities: Exposing Design and Leadership Challenges for Bunbury and Geelong. It is open access.
Two of the authors, Adam Johnson and Hing-Wah Chau, were speakers at the 4th Australian Universal Design Conference. Papers were published by Griffith University.
From the abstract
This article compares research identifying the systemic barriers to disability access and inclusion in two regional Australian cities. We discuss some of the leadership and design challenges that government and industry need to address to embed universal design principles within urban planning, development.
In Geelong, Victoria, the disability community sought a more holistic and consultative approach to addressing access and inclusion. Systems‐thinking was used to generate recommendations for action around improving universal design regulations and community attitudes to disability. This included access to information, accessible housing, partnerships, and employment of people with disability.
In Bunbury, Western Australia, a similar project analysed systemic factors affecting universal design at a local government level. Recommendations for implementing universal design included staff training, policies and procedures, best practice benchmarks, technical support and engagement in co‐design.
Universal design and local government
Here is an earlier paper from Adam Johnson who used Bunbury in Western Australia as a case study for his presentation at the UD2021 Australian Universal Design Conference. Bunbury set itself an aim, and a challenge, to be the “Most Accessible Regional City in Australia”. Adam explained how he used participatory action research (PAR) methods to meet Bunbury’s challenge. Universal design in local government means involving the people who are the subject of the research. In this case, people with disability and older people.
PAR has three principles:
- The people most affected by the research problem should participate in ways that allow them to share control over the research process
- The research should lead to some tangible action within the immediate context
- The process should demonstrate rigour and integrity.
Adam recruited 11 co-researchers to work with him: 6 people with disability, 3 family carers, and 2 support workers.
Local government is where the ‘rubber hits the road’. Local government is best placed to work with residents and understand the context of where they live, and it means they can be innovative with solutions tailored to local needs.
The research project had a positive impact:
– Greater alignment between policies and practices at the City of Bunbury with universal design.
– Co design panel created informing many current infrastructure projects.
– Universal design standards adopted.
– Staff and contractors trained in Universal Design.
– $100,000 per annum allocated for auditing and retrofitting
The project was undertaken with a three year industry engagement scholarship with Edith Cowan University. The title of Adam’s presentation is, Universal design in local government: Participatory action research findings.