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”.

6 steps for effective wayfinding

A street signpost with multiples signs going in several directions. They need 6 septs to effective wayfinding.
Image by Kim Broomhall from Pixabay

Wayfinding is more than just putting up a sign, but where signs are needed it’s time to call an experiential graphic designer. They have expertise in understanding human behaviour and perception. Knowledge of access codes is also part of their skill-set. The key point is to involve them at the beginning of a project for best effect. A SEDG blog post has 6 steps for effective wayfinding. 

6 Steps for Effective Wayfinding

Think about wayfinding long before the development site and architecture have taken shape. Experiential graphic designers are the go-to people at this point. The following steps are edited from the SEDG blog post. They outline the process for working with designers to integrate wayfinding into new or existing space. 

1. Kick off. A good designer will listen to the problems and challenges that a wayfinding systems needs to solve.

2. Strategize and plan. Designers think about how people move around and interact, anticipate needs and identify obstacles. They should also consider any regulations and restrictions to ensure designs are approved. 

3. Concept and design. A good designer will have skills in type, colour, form, materials, lighting and more and present a variety of designs. They consider sightlines, obstructions, language and culture, physical disabilities and visual impairments.  

4. Review and approve. This is the most important part of the process. A good designer packages the designs for approval and negotiates where necessary. 

5. Bid for pricing. Allow up to three weeks for this step so mistakes aren’t made leading to bigger issues. Proposals should include samples, colours, materials, shop drawings and permits.

6. Fabricate and install. Fabrication and installation takes eight to twelve weeks. A good designer will work with fabricators and installers to ensure design intent is followed, down to the last sign type and location. 

Final thoughts. 

According to the blog post, experiential graphic designers have sound design principles. They understand building materials and manufacturing techniques. These designers understand human behaviour and perception—the way people make decisions and move through a space. In the long run they can save you time and money. 


Schandorff Square: Parking lot to park

A distant view of the place and gate showing the winding path, steps and sitting areas in Schandorff Square.
Re-modelled Schandorff Square in Oslo

Remodelling a sloping urban open space with a heritage building is no easy task. Taking a universal design approach is one way to solve the issues. The re-design of Schandorff Square shows how to turn a parking lot into a park using a universal design framework.

The problem was making a city space, with a heritage wall and gate, on a sloping site into a pleasant place to walk, and to have informal get-togethers.

The height difference of seven metres was the main challenge. But with some universal design thinking to drive the design they came up with a successful inclusive and accessible design. Lots of seating areas and visual contrast increase the accessibility of the site. In addition, designers also found the right mix of plants to suit people with allergies. 

See more detail on the story about this universally designed open space and the difficulties they overcame. Several photos illustrate the final design, and the designer explains their universal design approach in a video. 

Editor’s Note: Norway has almost no flat land and is at the forefront of rolling out universal design everywhere. So the myth that you can’t do UD on sloping sites is put to bed.

Safe and inclusive neighbourhoods

A woman stands at a street crossing with her assistance dog. She is touching a tactile street sign. Part of creating safe and inclusive neighbourhoods.Neighbourhood design has a role for both road safety and social inclusion. Pedestrian death rates are rising. What’s the cause? Is it smartphones or road design and drivers? Or is it both? Australian figures show the older generation is a big part of the fatality toll. But they are not likely to be looking as smartphones as they walk. So road and street design need another look for safe and inclusive neighbourhoods.

The American Society of Landscape Architects has an excellent guide on neighbourhoods and street design. Safe intersections, wider footpaths, accessible transportation, multi-sensory wayfinding, legible signage, and connected green spaces are addressed in the guide. City of Sydney gets a mention (see picture above) about a larger signage system that helps pedestrians calculate walking times within the city. 

Neighbourhood design important for inclusion

View from high building in Brisbane overlooking building roofs and the Brisbane river and bridges. We need to create safe and inclusive neighbourhoods.An article published in The Conversation about inclusive communities suggests neighbourhood and urban planning have a key role in promoting diversity, and through diversity comes safety and inclusiveness. This is particularly the case for adults with an intellectual disability.

The authors stress the “main issue is not the type of accommodation, but its location. The neighbourhood, its design, and the community of people who live there are all significant factors for supporting safety and inclusion.” And surprisingly the exclusion of cars (in terms of thoroughfares) via a return to the cul-de-sac is seen as a significant design principle to reconsider for inclusive neighbourhoods. Preliminary results found three critical aspects for designing an inclusive neighbourhood:

    1. actual and perceived safety within the street and neighbourhood
    2. access to services and amenities via walking, cycling or public transport
    3. inclusion in community life and local neighbourhood activity.

The title of the article is, Contested spaces: who belongs on the street where you live?


Age and Dementia Streetscapes Toolkit

front cover of Age and Dementia Friendly Streetscapes Toolkit.We know that walking has health benefits for all age groups. But for people with dementia, walking the neighbourhood becomes more challenging. Yet walking is important for dementia prevention and management. So how can we make streetscapes dementia friendly? The Age and Dementia Streetscapes Toolkit is a great start. Based on participatory action research, the toolkit is a very practical guide. 

Around 70% of people with dementia are staying in their home environments. As we know, walking is good for physical and mental health. But what can councils do in practical terms to support people with dementia to get out and about? 

Moonee Valley City Council in Victoria wanted to know how to make environments more welcoming. They commissioned a project to find out what design features are most important to older residents. The resulting toolkit is the result of much consultation within local communities. The toolkit shows how a few tweaks can make places more vibrant, supportive and accessible.

The consultation process focused on one main street. It was chosen because it was surrounded by a high density of older people. They found that shops had a role to play especially where shopkeepers knew residents by name. 

The Age n Dem Toolkit was developed to provide a practical guide for the design of inclusive and accessible streetscapes. It “identifies elements that yellow background with a black call-out box with Age n Dem in itsupport inclusive built environment outcomes for older people generally as well as for people living with dementia.”

The process of developing the toolkit was also published in the Journal of Transport and Health. Extracts from the abstract follow.

Extract from Abstract

Age’n’dem was a participatory design process with older residents of Moonee Valley. It informed streetscape design, ensured access for older people including people with dementia, and to ensured measures were inclusive. The experiential learning process informed redesign of Union Road streetscape in Ascot Vale, Victoria. This street operated as an intact and attractive environment for shopping, and was surrounded by the highest density of older people in the municipality. Shops played an important role in supporting people to age in place.

Shopkeepers played an informal role by looking out for regulars, and helping out when and if something happened. Residents relied on it. Walking up the street, passing the time in a familiar place and dropping in on shopkeepers had become part of a daily ritual for many locals. What the shopkeepers did informally was better than any response any community service could offer.

Our role became one of supporting a natural and organic response by listening, watching and learning. We knew that If we made the street more comfortable we could sustain older residents’ interest as they age. We also knew that walking plays a key role in dementia prevention. Investing in local’s knowledge was important. Process is everything. Our most articulate supporters are the older residents themselves talking on national radio, and statewide press.

Poorly designed building wins award

A larege campus building with lots of glass and angled pillars and lots of steps.How can a building that compromises safety win an architectural award? Answer: by avoiding any reference to accessibility. A public building in Canada won an award, but the building is not user friendly for all. The video below shows how designing for designers or awards instead of users can produce hazardous results. That’s how a poorly designed building wins an award.

A blind user demonstrates the hazards whether using steps, the ramp, or even the elevator! It is easy to see how some users would think this thoughtless design. This is a great educational video on why handrails and ramps need to be done in a particular way. Universally accessible design is clever design, but this building is not clever. You can also read the article in the

Upgrading Existing Buildings handbook

front cover of the upgrading existing buildings handbook.The regulatory framework for the built environment is moving away from reliance on regulation. Instead, the Australian Building Codes Board is developing handbooks for performance solutions. The Upgrading Existing Buildings handbook is one such publication. It relates to all buildings other than private housing. The handbook is only a guide, leaving potential for other ways of getting the same outcome.

The 57 page document includes appendices for each of the states and territories. Also included are legislation, regulations and design responsibilities. The key content is in the five steps:

      1. Locate related documentation
      2. Undertake an on-site inspection
      3. Compare expected performance
      4. Identify actual deficiencies
      5. Alleviate actual deficiencies

There is a section on people with disability which refers to the Access to Premises Standard. The handbook refers readers to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s guidelines for help. The five step process is applied with explicit reference to accessibility. For example, paths of travel and sanitary facilities. 

The takeaway message is that Performance Solutions may be the only practical solution to address actual deficiencies, and this is where a Universal Design approach will be most beneficial.

The 2020 version of the Upgrading Existing Buildings handbook updates the 2016 version. It reflects the move away from mandatory regulation to performance requirements.

Designing healthy health facilities

A slide from the presentation showing a cafe area with large glass windows looking out to a garden.Hospital design is evolving. We have moved from the Florence Nightingale era focused on regimes and hygiene to one of patient healing. And not just in a medical sense. Knowing that building design impacts our sense of wellbeing, we have entered the era of designing healthy health facilities. This was the topic of Michael Walker’s presentation at UD2021 Conference. 

Michael’s presentation took a biophilic approach to designing health facilities. Biophilia is about increasing connection to the natural environment. This is achieved through the choice of building materials and/or direct connection to nature. He gave several examples of the design features that matter: 

“Natural shapes and forms – the use of botanical and animal motifs, natural forms such as shells and spirals, egg, oval and tubular forms and shapes that generally resist straight lines and right angles.

Light and space – the use of natural, filtered or diffused light, the incorporation of shadows, warm light, spatial variability, spaciousness and the connection of inside and outside spaces.”

Other factors to consider in hospital design are:

      • Wayfinding: Most people can be easily overwhelmed when trying to find their way in unfamiliar surroundings.
      • Entrances: Arriving at a healthcare facility can be challenging for people and their carers. If arriving by car, there will be concerns about safety and wayfinding.
      • Reception: Areas should be clearly identified and provide people the opportunity to identify that they may need help in navigating the engagement process. 

The presentation slides have more information on this aspect of designing healthy health facilities. Michael’s presentation is titled, Design Matters to Make Well Spaces, and  linked closely with Stefano Scalzo’s keynote address on universal design. 

Universal Design and Local Government

Three children, each a wheelchair user, are enjoying the spinner in the playground: a universal design.
Children enjoying the spinner in the playground

Adam Johnson 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.

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

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. 


A UD approach to all building types: A guide

Front cover of the guide.What does it mean to take a universal design approach to designing all building types? In a nutshell, it means designing for as many people as possible. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach either, although some say it is. 

The concept of universal design has come a long way from its roots in barrier-free-design. It covers everything from tangible objects to customer service. 

A guide from the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design covers all types of public buildings: offices, transport, retail, shopping centres, restaurants and bars, museums, galleries, libraries, entertainment centres, religious buildings, hotels, outdoor areas, parks and historic sites. The whole guide takes a universal design approach to all aspects of building design and across all types of buildings. It’s a very detailed guide, but the sections have clear subheadings. 

The Building for Everyone guide contains checklists for each section and pictures show some of the design issues arising. This is a comprehensive publication and brings together all building types together in one place. This makes it a good resource for local authorities that need to join the dots between all buildings in their community. It is also useful for planners and designers involved in one or more of the building types. 

Also, have a look at Designing Homes with Dementia in Mind.