Why do they keep designing stuff like that?

Woman with a baby stroller using the platform lift to get onto the raised bus stop platform .The bus stop is a tube shaped shelterDespite the readily available information about universal design and inclusive practice, we still hear people say, “Why do they keep designing stuff like that?”  The answer: it’s still considered niche design. And designers think the access standards in the building code actually work for everyone, which of course, they don’t. They especially don’t work when builders “make their own arrangements” with designs.

Inclusiveness of designs always at risk

The process of creating inclusive places is often based on “throwntogetherness”. Charlotte Bates uses this term to explain the haphazard way in which places come into being. It’s throwntogetherness because the processes are complex causing inclusive design to be at risk. Starting out with an inclusive design, doesn’t guarantee it will end up inclusive. There are too many other stakeholders who want to serve their own interests. 

Bates’ article, Negotiating Place: The Challenge of Inclusive Design begins with a quote from an access consultant.

“In my more miserable moments I think we’ll never get it right, and people just ignore it, and building control officers don’t implement it, and we still see buildings where somebody says it’s accessible, and it’s not accessible at all. We’re still designing public spaces with cobbles, brand new public spaces with cobbles and seats that have got no arms or backrests, and they don’t understand that an older person can’t get up off a concrete stone bench. Why do they keep designing stuff like that?” 

The research is from the UK, but the experiences are very similar in Australia. Bates makes good points, including the one that many of us know: even when you design something to be inclusive, it is overridden by contractors who focus on time and money. So there is no guarantee the end result will be accessible. The article is on the Universalising Design website. Very readable article.

Shared space or contested space?

two cyclists ride into a city square which is a pedestrian precinct. Shared space or contested space?
Pedestrian zone with cyclists

Policy makers are concerned about growing motor vehicle usage, pollution, and poor health outcomes due to lack of exercise. Consequently, transport and planning experts are keen to get people out of their cars an onto bikes and public transport. Creating pedestrian malls is looking like a policy favourite too. But this often means that pedestrians have to mingle with slow moving traffic, light rail, and cyclists. Alright for some, but not for everyone. So is it shared space or contested space?

Older people in particular don’t like to share walkways with cyclists. And for many older people, the car is their mobility device. With poor footpath maintenance, or no footpath at all, people unsteady on their feet will still get around by car. So not an easy problem to solve.

Centre for Excellence in Universal Design in Ireland has done some research on this topic which is titled, Shared Space, Shared Surfaces and Home Zones from a Universal Design Approach for the Urban Environment in Ireland .

front cover of the report. black background with a collage of pictures and the title in white lettering. Shared space or contested space?
Front cover of the Executive Summary

It comes as two documents, a short executive summary, and the full document.

The study explored “contemporary national and international practices and thinking on Shared Spaces, Shared Surfaces and Home Zones and to investigate these concepts from a Universal Design approach in the Irish urban environment. This report sets out key evidence based findings and provides key recommendations in relation to the implementation of Shared Spaces, Shared Surfaces and Home Zones in Ireland”.

Manchester and Brussels: A place to grow old

A city square in Belgium showing heritage architecture. People are milling about in the square in Brussels.
Brussels city square

The WHO Age Friendly Cities and Communities framework remains a robust method for creating age-friendly places. We can learn a lot from cities that signed up to the WHO Global Network that began in 2007. A book chapter compares Brussels and Manchester as a place to grow old. It shows that different policy approaches result in quite different outcomes.

The first part of the chapter covers introductory material and detail about the 8 domains of the WHO program. The interesting part, especially for local government, is the comparison of approaches and outcomes for Brussels and Manchester. Brussels, for example, focused on social housing for older people and street safety. Manchester focused on lifetime neighbourhoods and quality of life.

Manchester was more inclusive of different ethnic backgrounds than Brussels which also has a diverse population. In short, Brussels was about keeping people safe, and Manchester was about living life. The paper goes on to discuss the barriers to implementing the programme and developing age-friendly policies. There are some good recommendations at the end of this paper which was published in 2015. 

The chapter title is, Developing Age-Friendly Cities: Case Studies from Brussels and Manchester and Implications for Policy and Practice. It begins on page 277.This chapter is one of several interesting papers in Environmental Gerontology in Europe and Latin America.  

You can find out more about the Manchester Urban Ageing Research Group and a short video on what they are aiming to achieve. 

WHO Age Friendly Cities

WHO age friendly logo of 8 petals showing the 8 domains of life.Age Friendly Cities has its founding concepts in healthy ageing. Well if it’s healthy for older people it’s healthy for everyone. These cities should be walkable, compact and have infrastructure that supports liveability. But planning laws haven’t this and continue to address ageing in terms of age-segregated living arrangements. 

Canada was at the forefront of the development of the WHO Age Friendly Cities program in 2006. But that hasn’t been enough to overcome entrenched planning and development processes. No Place to Grow Old: How Canadian Suburbs Can Become Age-Friendly, found that although planners and others have concerns about an ageing population, their thinking hasn’t adapted. Consequently, little has changed in the last ten years. 

The survey found that older people were seen as a special-needs group rather than establishing inclusive policy solutions. The report makes some useful recommendations and the findings are applicable to any urban area in any location.

You can find a list of Australian cities or communities that are members of the WHO Global Network of Age Friendly Cities on the WHO website. You can also find out how your community can become a member of the Global Network.

The graphic above depicts the 8 domains of life that need to be considered in making a community age-friendly. 


Landscape architects lead the way

Image from the Arcadia report showing seating decorated with a shape of the shoreline.
Sandstone seating and Turpentine Ironbark timber. Corian detail shaped to reflect the shoreline of Sydney Harbour,

It’s fitting that a landscape architecture firm should tackle the topic of connection to Country. After all, they are the ones designing our outdoor spaces. NSW legislation dictates that Aboriginal heritage must be protected. Consequently, the responsibility falls to design professionals. It’s a means of enriching the built environment, and not just a legal necessity. So, it falls to landscape architects to lead the way. 

A report by Arcadia Landscape Architects aims to show that engagement with First Nations people is not difficult. They are concerned that designers will unwittingly perpetuate the colonisation of space if they continue with established practice. As they say, it has to go beyond token responses of “ornamental recognition”. They add that engaging with First Nations people continues after the life of the design project. 

The report aims to encourage the wider built environment industry to engage with First Nations people. The concept of Country is more than just land, water and sky. Country is language, family culture and identity, and is loved, needed and cared for.   

“Arcadia emphatically rejects the softening of language when referring to British invasion and processes of colonisation. It is a trend for these processes to be referred to as “arrival” and “settlement”, however the softening of language perpetuates myths of terra nullius and denies First Nations people their history and suffering endured.”

Front cover of Arcadia report. Landscape architecture leads the way.The report covers:

      • Approach and a note on language
      • How to engaging with Knowledge holders
      • Engaging with Country, which has 5 steps and examples
      • Engaging with Industry 
      • What to do when you can’t engage 
      • Where to next? includes conducting cultural training

There is a list of references and further reading at the end. The title of the report is, Shaping Country: Cultural Engagement in Australia’s Built Environment.  

Arcadia collaborated with Budawang/Yuin researcher and spatial and cultural designer Dr Danièle Hromek and Yuin woman Kaylie Salvatori, Arcadia’s Indigenous Landscape Strategist, to develop this research report.

 The NSW Government Architect’s Better Placed document has a section on Connection with Country

There are more articles on landscape architecture in the parks, open space and playspaces section of this website. 


Inside out for mental health

The new building for the Center for Addiction and Mental Health. It turned the city inside out for mental health.
Centre for Addiction and Mental Health

The 1980s saw a turning point for people with mental health conditions. Reagan and Thatcher declared that the asylum model was dead. Australia soon followed suit with this idea. But what to do instead? And what could be done with these huge Victorian building complexes? A facility in Toronto, Canada, came up with a great idea, which was quickly copied in South Australia. Jan Golembiewski explains how the place was turned inside out for mental health.

Golembiewski writes a short story about the Toronto experience in the Journal of Urban Design and Mental Health. Similarly to many institutions it took up a considerable amount of land. Urban Strategies won the contract to redevelop the whole site. It involved removing high walls and extending local roads into the site. So, in effect they were turning the facility inside out.

The design incorporated outward facing units which were connected to the urban grid. The open space then became shared space. Patients run a cafe which has some stories to tell according to Golembiewski. He says the people on the street are just a little more colourful. Mental health professionals are ready at hand to keep an eye out generally. The project has turned out to be good for patients and the community. 

The title of the article is, Turning the City Inside Out for Mental Health, and the Canadian facility is the Center for Addiction and Mental Health. It’s an easy and interesting read.

Mapping how something gets built

Virginia Richardson ran a workshop at the UD 2021 on mapping how something gets built. Although local government is not the designer, it has many responsibilities for the project from start to finish. The question for the workshop was, how can we embed universal design in the process? 

Virginia began with a graphic showing an example of the number of stakeholders involved in house building. A line of complex manufacturing machinery used to show the complex process and number of stakeholders involved in mass market housing.

This concept was developed further in the workshop. It showed how many people get involved in a building project from a local government perspective. 

A linear machine picture has lots of coloured post it notes on it depicting all the people involved in building a park project.
Slide from the workshop

Virginia’s slides include the Draft Universal Design Policy and associated documents for the Mornington Peninsular Shire Council. 

There are more presentation slides and published papers on the UD2021 Universal Design Conference page . 



Planners can play a leadership role

Aerial view of Tongva Park showing accessible walkways throughout.
Tongva Park is universally designed

Post-COVID infrastructure projects are injecting life into economies around the world. So this is an opportune time to infuse universal design into all construction projects. Planners can play a leadership role in taking a universal design approach. But how will planners take the lead if it is not being taught?

An article in the American Planning Association online magazine, Viewpoint, challenges educators to get up to speed with universal design. The author says it is time for justice in the built environment, and universal design is the way to go. However, designers have not embraced this concept. But perhaps the momentum is shifting. 

 Designing for Disability Justice. an essay published by the Harvard Design School, discusses the issues. Access standards are a barrier to design – they limit imagination. It’s more about completing a checklist and offsetting liability than design. Then it’s seen as limiting design and something to be tacked on. A change in thinking is needed so that universal design is tackled as a challenge not a chore.

The title of the article is, Why Planning Education Should Embrace Universal Design. The author concludes,

“Some of the strongest forces on earth — economics, policy, politics, and a pandemic — will change the way we plan for the rest of the century. … formally teaching Universal Design at the university and professional certificate level is one of the best ways to guarantee that good planning rises organically from the diverse and unique needs of end users.” 

Non-disabled planners and designers are yet to understand that they are designing for their future selves. One day, they will need universal design. By then it will be too late. The time to act is now. 


Ageing in Place vs Aged Care: The Costs

Three stacks of coins sit alongside a wooden cut-out of a house shape.Most people want to stay in their own homes rather than go to an aged care institution. The Royal Commission into Aged Care report confirmed this. And the obvious follows – it’s also beneficial for governments because the costs of home care are less than institutional care. But are our homes designed to support care at home?

According to an AHURI Brief, on average, someone on a home support program costs the Government around $3,900 per year. The cost of a person living in residential care costs around $69,000 a year. These figures are the annual ongoing cost per person. The cost of a home care package ranges from $9,000 a year to $52,000 per year depending on the level of support. 

The AHURI Brief includes a chart comparing the various costs of of the different packages and support against the cost of residential care. Another cost that could be reduced is the need for home modifications. Not only can people stay home more safely, care hours are also reduced. In rental accommodation such modifications can be denied by the landlord. That will lead to early entry into an institution. 

The AHURI Brief concludes, “We note that there is currently no discernible connection between the Australian Government aged care program and any Australian or State or Territory Government housing program. This must change.”

The title of the AHURI Brief is, Better supporting older Australians to age in place

AHURI (Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute) is a national independent research network. AHURI’s work informs policy about housing and urban development. They have not engaged with the proposed reforms to the National Construction Code for improved accessibility in all new housing.  


Aged Care: Are institutions still the way to go?

An older woman using a walking cane walks over a paved section towards the roadway.Why is it still OK for older people to be “put” in aged care institutions? We closed such places for people with disability and mental health conditions last century. There will still be a need for some people to receive care in a place that is not their home. But the vast majority could be better served with homes and neighbourhoods designed to support them. And that doesn’t mean these places won’t suit everyone else – they will. 

The Conversation has an article that discusses this issue arguing it’s time to support healthy ageing in place. “Age-friendly places aren’t just good for older people. They also support the needs of children, people with a disability and everyone else in a community.” The article includes the well-established global age-friendly framework devised by the WHO many years ago. It is still relevant today. As the authors say, the WHO framework covers the essential ingredients of liveable communities. And it supports well-being for all. 

The title of the article is, Aged care isn’t working, but we can create neighbourhoods to support healthy ageing in place.  

A previous post, Ageing in the right place, has links to more on this topic.

Community engagement and civic innovation

An international group of adults stand with a big board in front of them. It says, Make Things Happen. There are lots of coloured post it notes on the board.Community engagement sounds like there’s more interaction than community consultation. But is ‘engagement’ enough, or is there a way for the community to also innovate? That is, to be part of the Civic Innovation process.

Civic Innovation is a global movement embracing smart city technology and social innovation. Citizens can play an active role in democracy if they have good information to inform their views and ideas. 

The Future of Place website has an article that outlines this new social and technological movement. It explains social innovation, the role of civic-tech, citizen activation, and collective impact. 

“Citizens often identify social and infrastructure problems before planners and developers. But are city leaders thinking community engagement strategies are enough? Or are they tapping into these valuable networks?” The question posed is whether current community engagement processes are recruiting the next generation of active citizens. Doing more with less is also an outcome of collective impact.

The title of the short and straightforward article is, When community engagement might not be enough – Let’s talk ‘why?’ civic innovation.

The Future of Place website has other useful resources.