Ableism and urban planning

long view of a Perth city mall with shops and cafes under awnings and trees for shade. Tall buildings are in the background. Urban planning.The COVID pandemic lockdowns have shown more people what it’s like not to be able to get out and about when you want to. But do the calls for “not going back to the way things were” include everyone? Lisa Stafford says that the planning profession and society have learned little. Planners, perhaps unwittingly, are still favouring the idealistic view of the “able body”. So we need to discuss ableism and urban planning.

In her article, Lisa Stafford explains how ableism is inherent in urban and regional planning. Planning is not neutral – it’s not value-free. Planners make decisions on what and who to plan for.  

“Time and again I have heard universal design omitted in the provision of social infrastructure…” Stafford writes. Excuses are budget shortfalls, and it’s “too hard” (read too costly) contribute to this lack. 

Talking about ableism

Where to start? Where you are now. Share and discuss readings with colleagues – look up “ableism” in Google. Low hanging fruit is checking your own ableism by asking “for whom are we planning?” Ableism intersects with other identities and experiences. Planners must think more deeply about the connection between planning, design and society.

Stafford advises we look to the work of the American Planning Association and their universal design approach. They promote intergenerational neighbourhoods and smart growth. Norway’s leadership in universal design is also mentioned. 

The chapter concludes with a short discussion on transport and active transport. 

The title of the article is, Planners, We Need to Talk about Ableism. The title of the open access special edition is Disability Justice and Urban Planning

Other articles cover bathrooms, physical access, disability and climate justice and an artist view of disability justice and planning.

There are several posts on the work of the Norwegian Government on this website that link to Stafford’s references.

Housing and health – a much needed partnership

A older man and woman are smiling at each other. The man is handing the woman a yellow tulip.Research collaborations between different disciplines are a good way to build knowledge and share resources. Housing and health is one area where more cross-sector collaboration is needed. But collaboration doesn’t just happen. Stuart Butler and Marcella Maguire say in their article that collaboration needs a supporting infrastructure. 

Butler and Maguire argue that health and housing partnerships remain in their infancy compared with other collaborations. So what is holding up the development of this essential partnership? They say it is the need for connective tissue.

“Connective tissue is a way of describing the infrastructure needed to support intentional alignment, coordination, and integration between sectors or organizations that serve the same or similar populations in a community.

By “infrastructure” we mean both tangible elements, such as information exchange systems, financing, personnel, shared language, and the intangible elements of trust and shared goals. Developing systems and trust that address cross-sector needs does not just happen; it requires a deliberate process that moves beyond the individual goals of any one system towards a community-wide approach.”

Why the partnership is important

Housing can be the platform for the range of services needed to promote good health. It is a foundational social driver of health. Housing and health partnerships are particularly valuable for addressing the needs of marginalised populations. Collaboration supports:

      • Ageing in the home and community
      • Meeting future pandemic situations 
      • Ending homelessness and housing instability
      • Supporting NDIS participants and their families
      • Addressing some of the impacts of climate change

Components of success

The authors say the components of success include clearly defined goals, network development, and working on projects together. And a good point is made about budgets and cost-shifting: 

“Partnerships are often weakened by the “wrong pockets problem. This exists when one sector needs to invest in a way that benefits another sector but offers little or no direct cost savings to the first sector. In a housing-health partnership, for example, a housing authority might be considering improving safety features in all bathrooms for older residents. But the main cost saving would be to the Medicare program, not to the housing budget.”

The title of the article is, Building connective tissue for effective housing-health initiatives.  

See also the WHO Housing and Health Guidelines which includes a chapter on accessible housing. 

What’s next for urban design?

All aspects of urban design and development are undergoing technological change.  The pandemic has increased the speed of  some changes. For example, online shopping and parcel delivery, working from home and demand for green open space. The University of Oregon’s Urbanism Next Framework draws together key issues in answer to “What’s next for urban design?”

The three page framework lists the forces of change as new mobility, e-commerce, mobility as a service and urban delivery. These impact land use, urban design, building design, transportation, and real estate. The infographic below shows the kind of questions designers and policy-makers need to ask themselves. Click on the image for a better view of the infographic. 


The framework poses key questions for the future. For example:

      • How will e-commerce impact the demand for industrial land?
      • How do we protect open space under pressure to expand cities?
      • What will happen to sprawling city footprints when people don’t need to live in cities?
      • How will the need for fewer parking lots impact urban form?
      • How can the interactions between pedestrians and vehicles be managed?
      • Will new mobility reduce the demand for vehicle ownership?
      • What will draw people to places in the future?

The Framework says all these things matter for equity, health, the environment and the economy. So it is up to designers and policy makers to remember to take a universal design approach and follow co-design processes. 

From the introduction:

“One of the key challenges cities face is understanding the range of areas that are being affected or will be affected by emerging technologies, and how these areas are related. The Urbanism Next Framework organizes impacts based on five key areas— land use, urban design, building design, transportation, and real estate—and relates those to the implications they have on equity, health and safety, the environment, and the economy. It then considers what we should do to ensure that emerging technologies help communities achieve their goals.

The Longevity Revolution and the 100 year life

A man with white hair and beard sits at a desk with a younger man. The longevity revolution has arrived and the 100 year life is here. But what are the challenges and how do we meet them? An article from the World Economic Forum poses this question as part of The Davos Agenda. The first thing is to dismiss discussions about an ageing crisis – there are opportunities to be realised.

According to research, a child born in 2000 can expect to see their 100th birthday. The implications carry across the whole of society, business, and government.

The Stanford Center on Longevity has launched “The New Map of Life” initiative. New models of education, work, policies for healthcare, housing, and the environment are on the agenda. And researchers aim to redefine what it means to be “old”. 

The Stanford report says we are not ready, but we can meet the challenges. Here are their principles:

      • Age diversity is a net positive
      • Invest in future centenarians to deliver big returns
      • Align health spans to life spans
      • Prepare to be amazed by the future of ageing
      • Work more years with more flexibility
      • Learn throughout life
      • Build longevity-ready communities

Longevity is about babies not old people

“The impact on the global workforce is profound but also not yet realized. Before, we would have three or four generations in the workforce. Now, we have five and even six generations in the workforce. While stereotypes of all generations abound, many aren’t true. A growing body of research indicates that multigenerational workforces are more productive, see lower rates of employee turnover, have higher levels of employee satisfaction, and feel better about their employer.” (from the New Map of Life).

The Design Council also addresses the issues from a built environment perspective. See the post The 100 year life

Future of Place Framework

A circle of different coloured wedges representing the sustainable development goals. The wording is about Our Compass which is the SDGs.Driven by the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the Future of Place Framework sets out the Why, the What and the How. The framework is part of a larger project and marks the halfway point. The aim of the framework is to understand the evolving relationships between people, place, technology and data. 

The Framework is a thumbnail sketch with key points, using simple formats. Many meetings and workshops with a long list of participants sit behind this document. The task ahead is to produce a handbook to guide policy and practice. The aim of the handbook is to show how technology and data enablers can bring great place outcomes. 

Front cover of the Future of Place Framework.Smart Cities Council, the organisation behind the document, invites others to participate in the process. The outcomes they list are not new but still worth mentioning: 


Connection Diversity
Engagement Commerce
Experience Wellbeing
Enjoyment Meaning
Choice Culture
Happiness Inclusion
Safety Sustainability
Comfort Respite

Future of Place Principles of Practice 

The framework states, that as city shapers we will:

      • Embrace technology and data solutions where they help amplify the quality of place, and human experience.
      • Design technology and data solutions with purpose, deploy with transparency and operate them ethically.
      • Uphold the principle that technology and data can help shape great places, but in support of other foundational enablers. 

You can find out more about the Smart Cities Council and this project and also see the list of contributors. Or go directly to the Framework

The Sustainable Development Goals have a commitment to universal design and inclusion.


Economics of meaningful accessibility

long view of a Perth city mall with shops and cafes under awnings and trees for shade. Tall buildings are in the background. Economics of meaningful accessibility.How can we measure the economic benefits of designing our built environments to ensure access for everyone? Good question. Tourism has a solid body of knowledge on the economics of inclusion, and housing studies cite savings for health budgets. However, we need a benchmark to show clear and direct economic benefits for stakeholders and society. But it has to be meaningful accessibility, not just minimal compliance to standards. That’s the argument in a paper from Canada.

 An article in the the Journal of Accessibility and Design for All has a good look at the literature on the subject. Research papers agree that there are overall economic benefits in making products and services more accessible. But we still need a way of getting hold of data and finding a good method for measuring. That’s the key argument in the paper.

The title of the paper is, Measuring economic benefits of accessible spaces to achieve ‘meaningful’ access in the built environment: A review of recent literature.

Meaningful accessibility

Meaningful accessibility is about how the built environment enables everyone to participate in social and economic life. As the authors say,meaningful accessibility and universal design go hand in hand—meaningful accessibility is a goal of universal design”. They also note that accessible environments are perceived as an altruistic intention rather than a business choice. That is, the notion of special designs for a small group of people who need them. 

The aim of the paper is to draw attention to the gap in the research in areas such as planning, urban design and architecture. A strong voice from users of places and spaces calling for change remains essential. So too, is a change in discourse about disability being outside the frame of ‘normal’. 

Concluding comments

In the concluding comments the authors say meaningful accessibility is harder to sell than green buildings. And that’s despite reduced material costs and energy savings. From a human rights perspective accessibility shouldn’t be an option – it’s a fundamental requirement. 

Whether a better or more rigorous framework for economic analysis will win the day is still questionable. The political context is far more complex. The evidence in Australia on the economic benefits of accessible housing was not sufficient to sway all jurisdictions. The argument that “it costs too much” is consistent with the narrative of disability being outside the frame of normal. 

Editor’s note: The argument for change is not about economics, it’s about political will. It was only when the Victorian and Queensland governments took the lead on accessible housing that the building code was changed. People say to me that we should be explaining the economic benefits if we want accessibility and inclusion. Sadly, the many economic studies have fallen on stony ground and remain silent and ignored. 

This website has more than 20 articles on the economics of inclusion and universal design. Use the search box with “economic” to find them.

Growing older: Where do you want to live?

An older man and woman are walking away from the camera down a street. They are wearing backpacks and holding hands. Where do you want to live when you grow older?Where do we want to live when we get older? The research tells us that most of us want to live where we are living now. If not in the same dwelling, then something similar in the same location. Basically, we want to keep our sense of belonging in the neighbourhood. We want familiar things around us – the things that make us feel supported. They matter more as we get older.

Retirement villages make up about 5 to 6 per cent of homes for people aged over 65 years. There is no indication that this will change in the future. 

Architect Guy Luscombe asks Where do you want to live when you grow older?  His article in ArchitectureAU summarises the situation which is a prelude to further articles. Architecture for ageing is broader than retirement villages. It’s about age-friendly environments and supportive infrastructure. Growing older is more than needing good home design. There’s finances, health, social interaction, and civic involvement. The articles will be released on line in the near future. 

Guy Luscombe is interested in how age-friendliness can be embedded into design to make it ‘normal’. With population ageing and more people staying put in later life, this is a now issue. Yes, the longevity revolution is already happening. 

Most jurisdictions understand we have to do something now. Hence the upcoming changes to the National Construction Code for basic access features in all new homes. By 2050 it’s expected that 50% of homes will be more suitable for ageing at home.

You can access two of Luscombe’s previous contributions on this website. 

Preferences of older people in residential design

Think about the windows  

Intellectual disability and social inclusion

people walking down a wide pedestrian zone. Intellectual disability and social inclusion.Local government authorities are exactly that – local. They are the tier of government closest to the everyday lives of people. Local neighbourhoods are where people feel either socially included or not. People with intellectual disability are much more likely to feel socially excluded. A research project undertaken by the University of Technology (UTS) took a novel approach to the issue.

To begin, they recruited researchers with intellectual disability to participate in all aspects of designing and carrying out the research. This was a key step for informing the research process. 

The purpose of the study was to understand the experiences of people with intellectual disability in their local community. They found that people with intellectual disability have valuable information to share. However, their voices are not heard and consequently their needs are not understood.

The discussion starter was the question, “What would you do if you were boss of your local council?” The answers were that they want their council to:

      • Provide accessible information in a range of formats about what is happening in the community and how to participate.
      • Provide someone to speak to – or even better, face to face contact.
      • Employ people with intellectual disability.
      • Help them access better transport and find ways to make them feel safer and more welcome. 
      • Improve public toilets and offer quiet spaces at noisy, busy events. 

A framework for change

The analysis phase of the research adopted the framework of the eight domains of the WHO Age Friendly Cities program. The eight domains are pitched to community life at the local level. It is a good framework for councils to use to improve the participation of people with intellectual disability as well as older people.

WHO age friendly logo of 8 petals showing the 8 domains of life.
WHO 8 Domains Framework

The analysis showed that participants wanted to know what is available and how to get around the community. Familiar faces and places were important. They also wanted respectful interactions with others in the community. These findings have some important information for councils and their social policy. 

Grouping people with intellectual disability under the generic term “people with disability” risks leaving them out. Communication and engagement strategies need to be adapted so they can access social and civic activities.

The title of the article is, Opportunities to support social inclusion for people with intellectual disability at a local level. Published in the Design for All India Newsletter. It is based on a published study, If I Was the Boss of My Local Government: Perspectives of People with Intellectual Disabilities on Improving InclusionThe author is Dr Phillippa Carnemolla who is also a CUDA board member.

This is a comprehensive article with recommendations for local government. 

European built environment standard

CEN CENELEC lgo in black and white.European Commission has published a built environment standard for accessibility. It describes basic, common minimum functional requirements using universal design principles. The accessibility and usability requirements relate to the design, construction, refurbishment and maintenance of indoor and outdoor environments. This one is for standards gurus.

The standard was based on consensus between relevant stakeholders. The CEN-CENELEC webpage has more detail about the standard and what it contains. The document is titled, EN 17210:2021 Accessibility and usability of the built environment – Functional requirements

There is a related document about public procurement to support accessibility in the built environment. This is also part of their Active and Health Ageing strategy.

The CEN-CENELEC Protocol on accessibility following a Design for All approach in standardization outlines the procedure to help technical bodies decide whether accessibility, with a Design for All approach, should be addressed when developing or revising a standardization deliverable.

The European Committee for Standardization is one of three European Standardization Organizations (together with CENELEC and ETSI) that have been officially recognized by the European Union and by the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) as being responsible for developing and defining voluntary standards at European level.

The websites are not the easiest to navigate but there is more information if you care to start searching their standards. 

Examples of universal design policy

picture of empty classroom showing wooden desks and a small blackboard. Examples of universal design policy.Here are three articles on universal design policy at national, state and local levels, and CUDA’s model statement. In 2016 the Victorian Government decided to incorporate universal design principles into government procurement processes. New schools were the first examples of Victoria’s universal design policy. 

The Victorian Government updated their universal design policy in 2022. There’s also a summary version. The policy documents are intended for use in procurement processes. They are based on the 7 principles of universal design. Embedding universal design into procurement processes helps ensure the project maintains an inclusive focus. 

Planning Policy at a national level

Front cover of the book. In 1999 Norway turned the notion of universal design upside down. Gone is the idea that it is just about the design itself or 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. 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’s work is the forerunner to the landmark document “Norway Universally Designed by 2025“. He 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?”  The paper is based on almost twenty years of experience and has guidance for others. 

Example for local government

Front cover of the policy statement.Having a universal design policy statement to go beyond access compliance is a relatively new thing. And it is a lot of work to start it from scratch. Fortunately Hobsons Bay Council in Victoria has a good example to refer to. Their Universal Design Policy Statement for council buildings and the public realm is comprehensive and nicely written in 18 pages. It covers cost (or lack thereof), the regulatory framework, applying universal design principles and advocacy with business and governments.  

Model Position Statement

CUDA also has a generic universal design position statement as a model for others to use. There’s also a plain language version. 

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