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?

Who thought of kerb cuts?

A concrete kerb ramp with yellow tactile markers on the slope.Who thought of footpath kerb cuts? 30 years ago policy makers couldn’t understand why anyone needed kerb cuts in footpaths. “Why would anyone need kerb cuts – we never see people with disability on the streets”. This is part of the history of disability rights that we rarely think about these days. But kerb cuts didn’t happen because of policy – they happened because people took matters into their own hands. And accessibility eventually shaped the streets.

Stories of activists pouring concrete on kerbs have made their way into urban legends. It is sometimes referred to as the “Curb Cut Revolution”. (Note the American spelling. In Australia we call them kerb ramps.) It was the beginning of a turning point for accessibility.

Of course, the injustice is not evident to those who are perhaps inconvenienced but not excluded. And it’s not just about wheelchair users. Anyone using a wheeled device: delivery trolley, pram, bicycle or luggage knows the value of the kerb cut. They’ve also benefited from the other accessibility features in the built environment. That’s how the term “universal design” was coined – good for wheelchair users, good for everyone. 

The Forgotten History of How Accessible Design Reshaped the Streets is a nicely written blog article. It provides an interesting context to what we know now as access standards. But compliance to legislation does not guarantee inclusion. It only provides access. That’s why we still need universal design thinking.

The Universal Design Movement goes back to the 1970s and it’s still going. That’s because every improvement for inclusion is hard won. The article has a great quote:

“When injustice is tied up with the physical spaces of cities and the policies that create them, it becomes difficult to assign responsibility for it – and hence difficult to change.”

The article is from Bloomberg CityLab. 

Home sweet, and safe, home

An older woman sits in a garden. She is holding a glass of beer and smiling. She looks happy.Aged care is in the news and not for good reasons. But what do Australians think of aged care and ageing in general? A good question, and the answer depends on your perspective and your age. Regardless, we need to consider home design seriously. That’s because staying put at home is clearly the favourite place for older age.

The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety commissioned Roy Morgan to research perceptions of ageing and aged care across all age groups. This report builds on the research by Flinders University about quality of care. Both studies were conducted before the outbreak of COVID-19.

The research confirmed previous studies that older Australians prefer to stay put at home and if needed, receive aged care at home. This desire increases with age. This preference is also expressed in the priority for help in the home rather than health related services. However, younger people rated health services as the highest priority for older age. The implication is that younger people see ageing as a bodily health issue whereas independence and choice are top of mind for older people. That is, their quality of life.

There is much to unpack from this report which also looks at community attitudes and perceptions of aged care. Perhaps the most surprising finding was that few people knew how much the government contributes to aged care costs. Most thought it was around 50% but it is actually 78%. This report is well-written and there are little gems hidden in the data.

The unanswered question remains, “If older people want to receive aged care at home, will the design of their homes support their desire?”

The answer is no in most cases – not if they are to retain their independence. Many older homeowners are in the same home in which they brought up their family. When they bought it there was no thought about whether the design would support them in their older age. Consequently, if we ask younger Australians whether they want access features in their new home they are likely to say no. Few of us can imagine ourselves as being somewhat “lesser” beings – that is, losing capacity over time. That means all our housing stock is unsuited to ageing in place and aged care at home. Time for a change.

The title of the Roy Morgan report is, What Australians think about ageing and aged care.  

Home design and independent living

An older woman sits in an armchair. She is wearing a purple knitted jacket and is smiling into the camera.Our homes have to work for us – all of us. COVID has highlighted how important this is. But do our current home designs support all home-based activities for the whole household? Probably not.

The Conversation has a timely article on how home design liberates people with disability or long term health condition and improves their quality of life. It is written in the context of the Australian Government’s housing stimulus package. The title of the article is, Renovations as stimulus? Home modifications can do so much more to transform people’s lives. The bottom line is that designs that increase independence, significantly decrease care hours and improve quality of life. 

The Australian Network for Universal Housing Design has campaigned for universal design features in all new homes. Their 20 years of advocacy has resulted in the Consultation Regulation Impact Statement (RIS) for accessible housing. The RIS was devised by a firm of economists for the Australian Building Codes Board. Using standard economic modelling, it was their job to weigh the costs and benefits of including basic universal design features in all new housing. They found that costs outweigh benefits to the community. However, the community currently bears the cost of not having universal design features in our homes.

Early entry to aged care, carers not being able to do paid work, increased falls, longer times in hospital, and the list goes on. So perhaps we should be comparing one cost with another. To say not having a cost is a benefit hides the current and ongoing and cumulative costs to individuals, families and the community. The “benefit” is not a bonus, not the “cherry on the cake”. It just reduces the current cost. And the features are good for everyone – it’s not special.

As a consultation document the RIS calls for submissions to either confirm their assessments or to provide additional information for their calculations. Submissions are open until 31 August 2020.

This is a moment in time where we have a chance to update home design for how we live today and tomorrow. If you have a story about home design, send it to ANUHD or respond directly to the Consultation RIS. Submissions can be your own story in your own words.

A home has to support people studying, working, doing a hobby, exercise or just needing a quiet space. And let’s not forget our personal care, household chores and maintenance. It also has to suit people caring for others – family members or paid staff. 

 

NSW Housing Strategy: Have your say

graphic depicting a house shape with sloping roof. Inside the shape is a montage of people.NSW Government wants to set a 20 year vision for housing. The strategy covers housing supply, diversity, affordability and resilience. Housing for seniors and people with disability is listed as a separate category. It mentions national policies such as taxation, migration, financial regulation, and the NDIS. Nevertheless, it lacks reference to the National Disability Strategy, the Livable Housing Design Guidelines, and the current consultation Regulation Impact Statement for accessible housing. The strategy implies that the NDIS and Specialist Disability Accommodation will solve the problem. 

The proposed vision is:

“Housing that supports security, comfort and choice for all people
at all stages of their lives, achieved through supply that meets the
demand for diverse, affordable and resilient housing and responds to environmental, cultural, social and economic contexts.”

The document includes a set of discussion questions that can help people with their responses. There is also a Fact Book with the data used to form the draft strategy.  It includes data on households with a person with disability on page 25.

Submissions close 24 July 2020. The discussion paper can be downloaded in full or in parts. 

There’s good supporting info in Home Coming? Framing housing policy for the future. The information is presented in an e-learning format, but this makes the information easy to grasp. And it’s free to do. It is a quick run through of the issues that should be considered if we are to truly have “comfort and choice for all people at all stages of their lives”. 

A UD approach to urban planning

Front cover of guide for planning.A guide to taking a universal design approach to urban planning covers just about everything. The aim of the guide is to deliver sustainable solutions and to create inclusive places. Here are some of the reasons planners should take a UD approach:

    • It avoids the need for wasteful and inefficient retro-fitting of solutions
    • It informs genuinely integrated strategies for land-use, transportation and urban design
    • It creates greater efficiencies for public infrastructure investment
    • It widens the audience and market for development projects enhancing commercial viability
    • It helps provide an environment in which people can age and retain their independence

Although this guide is based on planning laws in Ireland, there are many similarities to other jurisdictions. It covers, consultation, neighbourhoods, community facilities, lifetime homes, travel chain analysis, street design, car parking, economic development, wayfinding, heritage and more. There are also sample policy statements for each section. 

Once again, a really comprehensive guide from Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland.

The title of the guide is, Building for Everyone: A Universal Design Approach – Planning and policy.  

 

Urban life: the political and the architectural

Street scene of Oslo showing footpath dining and 2 cyclistsHow do you draw together the right to an urban life with practical policies? It’s a case of weighing up democratic values and architectural design. Urban life is more than just a place outside of home to visit. It’s also about being visible in public places – a concept much valued by people with disability. The underpinning value is social justice. Universal design is both a concept about inclusion as well as design initiatives. Finding the balance between them is the key.

A  study carried out in Oslo, Norway sought the views of urban experts. They included local government representatives, disability rights organisations and property owners. To sum up, public places can protect equality and dignity if all stakeholders share the same knowledge and understanding.  Once again, we see that inclusion requires knowledge sharing across disciplines. 

The article is titled, “Implementing universal design in a Norwegian context: Balancing core values and practical priorities“.

Excerpt from abstract:  How can urban planning processes include perspectives from people with disabilities? This paper discusses the implementation of universal design and accessibility in a local urban context. Universal design consists of both core values, such as inclusion and equal status, and specific design initiatives, such as design of pavement surfaces and benches. The aim of implementing universal designing strategies is to achieve equal access for all citizens. Based on an empirical study of an urban redesign project, I argue that equal access must imply both access to public places and to political processes.

 

Future proofing existing social housing: A case study

A group of red brick three storey apartments shaded by trees. What about a post-pandemic social housing stimulus project? Not a new idea, but such ideas usually relate to new housing. So what about modifying existing social housing? This is so that people can stay in their community for longer as they age. Lisa King argues the case in a research paper with a focus on older women. 

King’s paper begins with a literature review of the issues related to older women and housing. The case study takes the floor plans of existing dwellings and makes changes to show how to make them more accessible. The case study includes studio units and two bedroom units. There is also a site plan, a demolition plan and costings too. 

King summarises the research by giving a rationale for choosing 1960s dwellings, and says the project is scaleable, modular and cost effective.  In addition, this type of work provides employment for small and medium businesses. And of course, it optimises existing stock while improving the lives of residents. King sums up with, “The result would be universally accessible housing and an asset which would assist meet the growing demand for residents to age-in-place with dignity.”

A thoughtful and nicely written paper and well referenced. Although the focus is on older women, the concepts apply across all social housing. The title of the paper is, Future-proofing Existing Social Housing: A case study helping meet older women’s housing needs.  

For a short read King’s paper was featured in a Domain article, Trapped inside: Why social housing apartments need an urgent revamp.  

Be age-friendly to be sustainable

Four older men wearing hats sit at a square table in the park.The key to sustainable cities is to make them age-friendly, to work collaboratively across city departments, and to engage all ages in consultations. This is because older people risk exclusion from social and economic life if we keep designing cities in the same way. 

The latest policy brief on ageing from the UN group in Europe focuses on housing, access to green and public spaces, and transportation. The policy brief also looks at how smart technologies can be leveraged to improve the situation.

Mainstreaming ageing, gender, disability and human rights in urban planning is the key. Involving all generations for a people-centred approach, and not working in silos are also important. These are all elements of a universal design approach.

The document links with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 11). That is, to make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. It also references the WHO Age-friendly cities and communities guidelines, and the New Urban Agenda

Each section on housing, green spaces and public places, and transport address the issues in more detail. A lengthy document which should be of interest to policy makers and urban planners working at all levels. The media release is a shorter, easier read. 

The policy brief is from the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe. There are more policy briefs to browse on their website. 

 

Urban Planning and Coronavirus

Aerial view of a major intersection in the Melbourne CBD.The daily disadvantage of marginalised groups is more clearly revealed as others fall into the ranks of disadvantage during this pandemic.  A discussion paper from Berkeley argues that this current pandemic is an opportunity to consider similar urban health reforms that followed previous epidemics. Promoting inclusive and healthy cities for all is the bottom line in this thoughtful discussion.

The discussion paper takes the perspective of people with functional limitations. For many people worldwide, disability is about health, human rights, and poverty. It’s an urban development issue and time to move from the medical model to the social model of disability. Also discussed are how people with disability are left out of economic responses, such as one-off support payments, and not included in planning to prevent future crises. The authors provide recommendations for how this pandemic can best support people with disability and how this makes cities healthier for all. They warn that pandemics also run the risk of exacerbating further marginalisation through racism and segregation. The abstract below is the essence of the paper.

The title of the paper is, Disability, Urban Health Equity, and the Coronavirus Pandemic: Promoting Cities for All

Abstract: Persons with disabilities (PWDs) living in cities during the COVID-19 pandemic response may be four times more likely to be injured or die than non-disabled persons, not because of their “vulnerable” position but because urban health policy, planning and practice has not considered their needs. In this article, the adverse health impacts on PWDs during the COVID-19 pandemic reveals the “everyday emergencies” in cities for PWDs and that these can be avoided through more inclusive community planning, a whole-of-government commitment to equal access, and implementation of universal design strategies. Importantly, COVID-19 can place PWDs at a higher risk of infection since some may already have compromised immune and respiratory systems and policy responses, such as social distancing, can lead to life-threatening disruptions in care for those that rely on home heath or personal assistants. Living in cities may already present health-damaging challenges for PWDs, such as through lack of access to services and employment, physical barriers on streets and transportation, and smart-city technologies that are not made universally accessible. We suggest that the current pandemic be viewed as an opportunity for significant urban health reforms on the scale of the sanitary and governance reforms that followed ninetieth century urban epidemics. This perspective offers insights for ensuring the twenty-first century response to COVID-19 focuses on promoting more inclusive and healthy cities for all.