Our Streets: Dangerous by Design

The latest Dangerous by Design report from Smart Growth America has some interesting statistics about road deaths. This 2022 report differs from previous reports because it captures the behaviours of people during a pandemic. People walked more and drove less, but there were more road deaths. The report examines why.

“Seeing driving go down while deaths went up should call into question the long-held belief that traffic fatalities are inextricably linked to the amount of driving.”

Front cover of Dangerous by Design Report.

Conventional wisdom among policymakers and transportation professionals is that traffic fatalities are inextricably linked to the amount of driving. But the decrease in driving during the pandemic meant less congestion and a significant increase in speeds. Therefore more people were killed. Consequently, speed is the key factor.

Smart Growth America claims that too many transportation agencies and decision makers have been “asleep at the switch”. Their incremental changes to improve safety have not made any positive difference overall.

Those in power, “will have to unwind the deeply embedded, invisible yet powerful emphasis on speed, which is completely incompatible with safety.”

Two ambulance officers push a patient into the ambulance.

The Dangerous by Design 2022 report has several recommendations in terms of policy and design. The guest supplements provide practical experience and add depth to the report. The bottom line of the report is that we have to choose between speed and safety.

Walking and wheeling

The report has a sidebar about “walking” and inclusive language. Of course, some people cannot walk and that is why the term “pedestrian” is used throughout. People using mobility devices are considered pedestrians. However, they are not separated from people using other devices such as skateboards. Consequently, data are difficult to assess in terms of people with disability.

An engineer’s perspective

Charles Marohn writes in a guest supplement that engineers start the process by using the values of their profession. They don’t stop to consider their values might be questioned by others. It’s about standard practice. He says no-one asks questions about speed in proposed road and street designs. Engineers might claim they are not in control of how fast people drive, but Marohn questions this “excuse”. He believes they have a duty to consider it.

Accessible and inclusive cities: case study

The research team with the Mayor (standing).
Bunbury research group

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.

We describe the process followed in both studies to identify how, through collaborative and action‐oriented research methods, the studies identified key technical, cultural, political, and structural changes required to achieve equitable access and inclusion in the urban landscape.

Vulnerable citizens in floods and fires

Climate change is bringing increasingly dangerous and catastrophic weather events. Floods and fires are a regular occurrence in Australia, but not with the frequency and intensity that we are seeing now. While there are standards for building evacuations and fire risk management, these were developed without thought for vulnerable citizens. And when people need to evacuate to a communal place of safety, there is no guarantee it will be accessible.

Residents of the Northern Rivers area of New South Wales are not new to flood events. But the floods are getting worse as we saw this year. A major flood event occurred previously in 2017 and four researchers decided to explore the experiences of people with disability.

We found people with disability and carers are more likely than others to be affected and displaced. Their needs are more immediate and urgent than most, and their mental health is more likely to be compromised.

Road Closed signs and a barrier of a road that reaches down to a river in flood.

Their findings show the profound impact and systematic neglect experienced by people with disability and their carers. A longer term recovery period is required for people with disability with tailored supports. Consequently, people with disability should be included in flood preparations and recovery efforts.

The title of the article is, Exposure to risk and experiences of river flooding for people with disability and carers in rural Australia: a cross sectional survey. It’s not a very accessible document as the format is in two columns.

Fire safety

The NDIS aims to support people to live independently in a home designed around their disability. This usually means a step free entry and modified bathroom designs. However, little, if any, thought is given to the design of fire safety and safe evacuation in an emergency. Some NDIS participants will need extra support to prepare for and react in an emergency.

“Fire safety systems must be considered as a total package of risk management, equipment, maintenance, training and fire and evacuation drills. …Where disabled or immobile persons are concerned, the importance of the total package cannot be underestimated”

house fire photo taken at night time.

Hank Van Ravenstein outlines the role of the NDIS in his paper, Fire Safety and the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The first part relates the history of the NDIS followed by technical considerations for safety. He argues that the National Construction Code regulations don’t fully address or reflect the needs and risk behaviours of NDIS participants.

If we are to take a universal design approach, if the fire safety regulations aren’t sufficient for people with disability, are they sufficient for everyone?

Bushfire safety

As cities grow and become more compact, some citizens feel the need to “go bush”. This usually means finding a forest haven amongst the trees away from urban living. Then there are those who have always lived in the bush and wouldn’t live anywhere else. But bush living is risky and can be costly in terms of lives and property. It is particularly risky for people with disability and consequently, a different risk assessment process is needed.

Despite fire and rescue authorities encouraging people to prepare for bushfires (and floods), many leave it too late. Some are unable to understand the instructions, or unable to carry them out.

A nighttime view of a major bushfire. The bright orange and red glow of the fire is reaching into the tops of the trees.

A paper by Bennett and Van Ravenstein spells out all the technicalities of fire prevention and control. They argue for a risk assessment approach to existing and proposed buildings for vulnerable persons. The aim of their method is to provide a consistent basis for assessment.

The title of their paper is Fire Safety Management of Vulnerable Persons in Bushfire Prone areas.

There is an related paper on vertical evacuation of vulnerable persons in buildings.

Public toilets and cultural conflict

When you gotta go, you gotta go and it doesn’t matter who you are or how you identify. Historically, the use of public toilets has been studied from four different and separate perspectives. These are gender, public health, ergonomics, and the spaces people like between themselves and others. Public opinion plays a role and this makes the creation of inclusive public toilets a site of cultural conflict.

Standard toilet block in a rural area signed as Ladies and Gents.

Trans* rights are getting more attention these days and public toilets seem to be an area where public opinion plays a big part. But the trans population is not the only group that has trouble with toilet rooms.

Public toilets have been around for more than 2000 years. They are both public and intimate places at the same time. This gives rise to an emotional response to our need to eliminate and dispose of our waste. We care who we share this public yet intimate space with.

Steinfeld, Thibodeaux and Klaiman have taken up the issues with a view to solving issues by design. That is, to make these public amenities more inclusive. In doing so, it might provide some insights into making other public facilities more inclusive. The title of their research paper is, Public Restrooms: A Site of Cultural Conflict.

The research paper outlines a literature review and the qualitative research methods. The aim is to identify strategies for inclusive restroom design that is acceptable to the US population generally.

From the conclusions

The researchers note that in many parts of North America, any attempt to depart from the conventional binary women/men design will be politicised. Hence they can expect little, if any change. The conventional euro-centric gender segregated restroom is a reflection of a culture that supports a rigid idea of gender identity. Unfortunately, it neglects the realities of diverse needs.

Supporters of trans access to restrooms have focused on changing laws. However, laws do not address the whole problem. They can still face violence and abuse. The design of public toilets needs to be addressed too.

On orange door with a sign saying Unisex Toilet and baby change with icons to match.

A simple strategy for improving trans access is re-signing single user restrooms to be “all-gender”. It is an good initial first step because trans and cisgender people with additional needs can use these restrooms.

From the abstract

Public restrooms have become the major locus of conflict over trans rights. But this is only the latest manifestation of cultural conflicts related to restrooms. Historically, the restroom has been studied through four aligned, but separate, lenses: gender studies, public health, ergonomics, and proxemics.

These four lenses are both interdependent and intersectional. A review of literature paints a picture of how this conflict represents the gulf between embedded cultural values and the lived experience of a diverse population. We hypothesize that there is strong consensus on what people desire in toilet rooms, particularly regarding safety, hygiene, and privacy. However, these desires conflict with a cultural legacy based on hetero-normative values.

This hypothesis was tested through a review of research and preliminary findings from a survey that targets the intersections of gender identity, public health, ergonomics, and boundary regulation. This research leads to a holistic picture of the public restroom and situates the contemporary conflict as the result of polarized public opinion.

Demographics and ideology play an important role in forming opinions. While the public restroom is the main focus, this research improves our understanding about the larger issues. How might our built environment adapt in response to a more nuanced view of gender? How might urban spatial practices serve as catalysts for social change.

*Note that the term “trans” is used to encompass a wide range of gender identities including transgender, intersex, gender non-conforming and others.

World Cup: Accessible by Design

Major sporting events offer great opportunities to design and build inclusive infrastructure and services. The FIFA World Cup in Qatar is no exception. The Accessible by Design: Building a legacy of inclusion report sets out Qatar’s challenges and solutions.

The aim is to “ensure stadia and the entire experience, inside and outside the stadium, are fully accessible to all. This includes designing and planning for accessible hotels, transportation, tourist attractions and more”.

The policy recommendations in the report “provide solid and practical guidelines to design and redesign cities that are equally accessible to all”.

Front cover of Accessible by Design report.

Qatar has worked with organisations representing people with disability to meet their pledge to deliver the most accessible World Cup to date. This means both inside and outside the stadia – hotels, transportation, and tourist attractions. The aim is to leave a lasting legacy and a national priority for greater accessibility across Qatar.

Report and recommendations

The report is in four sections with an executive summary with a focus on urban design and the FIFA World Cup event. The first section discusses the prevalence of and disadvantages for people with disability. Five levels of accessible and inclusive urban design are presented based on the UN’s Economic and Social Affairs work.

The second section relates specifically to the World Cup with diagrams and explanations of how Qatar will achieve its aims. The third section is about what to expect at the tournament. With eight stadia all within a relatively close proximity to each other. That means fans can see more than one match in a day.

The fourth section has conclusions and policy recommendations. At the end of the tournament it will be necessary to check the experiences of people with disability. And also, whether the tournament left a lasting legacy of service and behavioural change.

The report closes with six policy recommendations. Similarly to the London Olympic and Paralympic Games, setting up an authority to continue the work is one of them. There is not much new in the report for countries that have policies on access and inclusion. However, it is good to see their aims and objectives set out in the report. While people with disability are being considered, we know that there are some other groups who remain on the outside.

The report is published by WISH and draws on the WISH 2022 Forum on Accessible Design and Health recently held in Doha.

WHO age friendly cities: does it work?

The World Health Organization’s guide to age-friendly cities and active ageing set the trend for policy in 2002. The publication, Global Age-Friendly Cities: A Guide, supports the age-friendly framework. This inspired the development of the Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities. So how successful has this age-friendly movement been?

Front cover of the WHO guide for age friendly cities.

The longevity revolution is happening now. So it is a good time to review the success or otherwise of the age-friendly movement and the WHO framework for age-friendly cities.

The WHO Guide was initially designed to be a bottom-up participatory process. The flexibility of the process enabled individual cities and communities to work on local issues. However, it hasn’t quite worked that way. As with all participative processes, it comes down to whose voices are being heard at the discussion table. And it depends on whether the city or community is urban or rural and on the resources available.

Edgar Liu has checked out Australian policies across the three tiers of government. He wanted to find out if the WHO guide and framework inspired policy making. And if it did, to what extent. In a nutshell, these policies did not fully reflect socioeconomic and cultural diversity. Also, the policy focus remains on care and support services, which conflicts with the recommendations for connecting with multiple policy areas.

The title of the paper is, The World Health Organization’s impact on age-friendly policymaking: A case study on Australia.

WHO age friendly logo of 8 petals showing the 8 domains of life.
The WHO Age-Friendly Cities Framework


This paper reflects on whether and how the World Health Organization (WHO) inspires age-friendly policymaking across different levels of government. This is done via a case study in which we analyse the policies of Australia’s three-tiered federated government system against the WHO’s eight core age-friendly cities domains.

Findings suggest that membership of the Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities did not appear to overtly inspire the development of age-friendly policies across Australian governments.

Content analysis shows there is an overwhelming policy focus on care and support services, with little attention to cultural diversity. This reflects an outdated portrayal of debilitation in later life and a lack of recognition of how diverse circumstances impact the ageing process and corresponding support needs.

Our findings also reveal the challenges of a three-tiered federated system, where varying financial and authoritative capacities have influenced how different governments acknowledge and respond to population ageing.

Notably, local governments—the main level of implementation targeted by the WHO—are invariably constrained in developing their own age-friendly policies and may opt to adopt those of higher levels of government instead. These challenges will likely impact other resource-limited governments in responding to the needs of their emerging ageing populations.

You can read more in a related post Manchester and Brussels: A place to grow old.

Welcoming and inclusive communities

Universal design is mostly associated with the disability community but it is much broader than that. The concept of inclusion means everyone – people from all walks of life regardless of who they are, where they are from and what they can do. The subject of migrants and rural communities are often absent from discussions on inclusion. However, when it comes to economic growth, regions and migrants become the focus of attention. So a new guide on welcoming and inclusive communities is most welcome in this space.

Front Cover of the guidelines showing two children smiling at the camera. It is in greyscale and they are wearing hoodies.

The guide is written with local stakeholders in mind. It is a place-based, community-driven process. Understanding the barriers and enablers for different migrant groups underpins this universal design approach to settlement.

The Planning for Welcoming and Inclusive Communities guide focuses on successful regional migrant settlement. It has steps for making it work, and tools for implementing migration programs. The guidelines are designed to adapt the diverse nature of regions across Australia.

The guideline is based on research and is structured in three parts: an introduction, opportunities of regional migration, and initiating a settlement strategy. Seven appendices complete the document. The steps of assessment, consultation and planning are explained in detail with helpful guidance.

The individuals and organisations involved in the settlement process have an opportunity to contribute to the design of practical policy. Of course, when consultation is done well people begin to feel welcome.

Two men are smiling broadly at the camera.

Many migrants […] would preference rural or regional Australia above a major city, because of a strong desire to engage in farming activities. For many, this desire to connect with the land is more important than securing a specific type of employment or cost of living.

The guideline is a joint initiative of Welcoming Cities, Monash Migration and Inclusion Centre and the Queensland Government. The Welcoming Cities organisation has more to say about settling migrants in regional areas.

Victorian Government Universal Design Policy

The Victorian Government has updated their universal design policy which applies to the whole of government. Previously it sat within the health and building department. The policy is not just an empty statement – it has actions embedded. These actions begin with the procurement process for built environment projects.

Front cover of the Victorian Government Universal Design Policy.  document

Universal design is a design philosophy that ensures products, buildings, environments, programs and experiences are innately accessible to as many people as possible regardless of age, disability, background or any other differentiating factors”

Victorian Government

The policy is structured around the classic 7 Principles of Universal Design. The aim is for all Government departments and agencies to apply the principles to all stages of the project from the project proposal to the implementation and operation of the project. Specifically:

  • Undertake user engagement and co-design processes
  • Incorporate universal design principles into procurement and function briefs
  • Incorporate universal design principles into design standards

The summary document provides a detailed explanation of how each of the 7 principles might be applied.

The main document has more detail including how to apply universal design across the lifecycle of a project and co-design methods. The 7 Principles of Universal Design are expanded to include both good and poor examples of design outcomes. In short – what to do and what not to do.

Both documents are in Word format for easy access for all. This is also a good example of getting the message across with as few words as possible – another universal design feature.

The Victorian Government has been leading the way on universal design for some time. Other states could benefit from following their lead. See also Victoria’s Health and Building Authority policy as well.

Design for inclusive attitudes

The biggest stumbling block to inclusion is the prevalent attitudes in society. Many of these rest in stereotypes about people who look or sound different to ourselves. Attitudes are also founded on myths and misinformation. So can we design for inclusive attitudes? According to a conference paper the answer is, yes, we can.

Many coloured heart shapes with black eyes and smiles indicate diversity. Telling stories for inclusion.

There is a gap between the concept of universal design and creating inclusive attitudes in society. Creating inclusive things does not necessarily create inclusive attitudes.

The paper looks as if it was translated from another language making this difficult to understand. However, the underlying premise brings the concept of universal design into the 21st Century. That is, moving from designing inclusive things, to addressing societal attitudes to inclusion.

The paper discusses a theoretical framework in the traditional academic manner. Part of the discussion is about how Inclusive Design, Design-for-All and Universal Design are not specific in how they promote inclusive attitudes. The emphasis is on products and not on intangible contents such as attitudes and behaviours. The authors argue that designers can use existing paradigms, and at the same time challenge them to focus on equity and quality of life.

A framework

A synergy between design culture and the Inclusive Attitude concept is needed. The framework suggests transitions from Design for Inclusion, to Design for Inclusive Attitude. Thereby moving from inclusive approaches to design, to designing for Inclusive Attitude. And further, moving from inclusive things to conceiving things that foster inclusive societal attitudes. The diagram below, which is taken from the article, shows the transitions.

Chart showing the theoretical framework of the transition from universal design to inclusive attitudes.
Design for Inclusive Attitude framework cited in the conference paper.

The authors pose the argument that there is a new generation of citizens and activities that don’t define themselves as designers. Rather, they apply their skills and efforts in the direction of social inclusion. This takes the discussion into the field of co-design although this term is not used.

Graphic with four circles: one each for exclusion, separation, integration and inclusion.

The authors conclude the aim is to create designers with inclusive attitudes, who create inclusive things, and at the same time, create inclusive societal attitudes.

The title of the paper is, Design for Inclusive Attitude: towards a theoretical framework. It is open access. The paper is in the proceedings of the AHFE International Conference, 2022 where you will find like-minded papers.

Editor’s comment: The paper takes a philosophical approach in trying to link inclusive design concepts to inclusive society attitudes. With so many new papers still reaching back to the 1997 principles of universal design, this is a refreshing change.

From the abstract

The Inclusive Attitude is a concept mainly debated in psychology, sociology, anthropology and it has received less attention from a design research perspective.

This paper proposes a theoretical framework for using Design for Inclusion to support Inclusive Attitude among the society. Starting from literature review, the paper compares the Inclusive Attitude concept with orders of design, design contents, design domains, continuum of design approaches, and domains of disciplines of Human Factors and Ergonomics (HFE). As a result, a conceptual framework is identified for studying the Design for Inclusive Attitude.

Social impact framework

The Property Council of Australia has launched their Collective Social Impact Framework. The aim of the Framework is to help companies asses their social sustainability programs. Interestingly, universal design gets a mention, but as always, there is an assumption people know what that is.

The Framework has three pillars with reportable metrics:

  • Healthy Places
  • Inclusive Communities
  • Responsible Growth

The priorities in the Framework are health and wellbeing, active living, and climate resilience. Community connection and advancing universal design are listed under inclusive communities. Equity and inclusive growth and job creation are the priorities under responsible growth. The metrics for each one are listed in the chart below.

A chart showing the three pillars of the social impact framework.

The Framework is aligned to industry standards such as the Sustainable Development Goals and ‘green’ standards. Participating companies can promote their social sustainability initiatives and showcase good practice.

Front cover of the Property Council report. A child is doing cartwheels in a park

The Framework builds on the foundations set by the report A Common Language for Social Sustainability. This is the baseline document which underpins the Framework.

The Property Council encourages members to rate their activities against the framework. Information gathered from participating companies will provide industry insights into the range of activities across the sector.

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