Great Public Spaces Toolkit

Public Spaces Toolkit cover.Creating great public spaces is one of the NSW Premier’s priorities. The Great Public Spaces Toolkit has all the elements for anyone interested in public space. It’s a collection of free resources to support local government, state agencies, industry and the community. 

The Great Public Spaces Toolkit includes:

A four page Fact Sheet about the Evaluation Tool which has four key questions: Am I able to get there? Am I able to play and participate? Am I able to stay? And am I able to connect? These key indicators are an extension of those developed for the Everyone Can Play guide. They were: Can I get there? Can I play? and Can I stay? and represent a universal design approach to the design of spaces. 

Evaluation Tool for Public Space and Public Life 

Great Public Spaces Guide 

The Engagement Report

The Evaluation Tool is also available in Arabic, Chinese and Vietnamese. Print versions are also included. 

Norway: A guide for UD is not enough

An aerial view of a hospital courtyard showing gardens, seating and children's play equipment.Guides give guidance, but you need to know the point of universal design. Knowing the point is a key success factor in taking a universal design approach. This is what the Chief Architect of St Olav’s Hospital in Norway said about the way the hospital precinct was designed. That’s why a guide for UD is not enough. 

The point is inclusion – it’s about society, not just design. This is what is lost in access compliance – few people know the point. An article in Citylab provides some examples of how Norwegian designers are embracing the principles of universal design. This approach is driven by the Norwegian policy Norway Universally Designed by 2025.

St Olav’s Hospital in Trondheim is a great example of how UD is deployed across the whole hospital setting. That’s from the outdoor and external features through to the internal design. The Chief Architect says, “Guidelines are not enough, you need clear intentions. You have to know what’s the point of this”. 

The Norwegian policy, which was launched in 2005, also includes transportation, open spaces and ICT and communications. Nicely written article by Marie Doezema.

Olav Rand Bringa was part of the early movement and wrote about the processes in, Universal Design and Visitability: from Accessibility to Zoning.  He also presented at the UDHEIT conference in Dublin.

Better Placed: Action for Good Design

Front cover of Better Placed.Policies and guidelines can be inclusive and thoughtful without needing to even mention universal design. The NSW Government Architect’s policy, Better Placed, has many of the elements of universal design without mentioning it. 

A universal design approach to any design is about taking a holistic perspective. In the same way that level entry to a building is seamless, a policy that is truly inclusive just shows what needs to be done. The Better Placed objectives could easily be linked to the 8 Goals of universal design, which can be adapted to the language of any discipline. In this case it’s urban planning and infrastructure development. The key objectives of this integrated design policy for the built environment are:

    • Better fit
    • Better Performance
    • Better for community
    • Better for people
    • Better working
    • Better value
    • Better look and feel

The NSW Government Architect defines a well-designed built environment as healthy, responsive, integrated, equitable and resilient. 

The accompanying document, Implementing Good Design takes the ideas and turns them into actions. There’s an evaluation guide as well. 

Better Placed confirms our collective wishes for the future design of our infrastructure, architecture, and public spaces, and endorses the power of design to enable a better and resilient future for our communities. – Peter Poulet, former NSW Government Architect.

Luminance Contrast: seeing the light

Photo showing visual distortion and reflections in a glass doorWhat is luminance contrast and how do you measure it? The non-technical explanation is the contrast of the light reflected on one surface compared with that of another, adjoining or adjacent surface. For example the contrast between the kitchen bench and the cupboard below and the wall behind.

So why do we need such contrast? Not everyone has perfect vision, colour discrimination, or visual perception. Contrasts provide good visual cues and create greater safety especially in areas like the kitchen and bathroom. Lee Wilson lists the many things in and around the home and public buildings that need such contrast. He explains in more detail everyday items that we might not think of: coat hooks, locker handles, buttons, switches, toilet seats, floors/walls, and more.

There’s a more technical look at luminance contrast and compliance with standards on the EqualAccess website. It covers some of the most common errors and where things go wrong.  

You can also read Measuring up for luminance contrast for more information on the topic.

Online hearing and vision simulator

Picture of a coffee machine in a cafeEver wondered what it is like for someone with hearing loss trying to be part of a conversation in a restaurant? Or wondered what it is like to try and read a transit map if you have glaucoma?  Now you can check this out online using simulators to get the idea of the way things sound and look.

The Inclusive Design Group at the University of Cambridge have come up with a simulator that covers mild, moderate and severe hearing loss in five different settings: restaurant, classical music, rock music, a ringing phone, and a station platform announcement. Similarly, the simulator includes the main vision impairments including macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataracts, and diabetic retinopathy. 

You can also use their Exclusion Calculator for vision, hearing, thinking, dexterity, reach and stretch and locomotion, to see how many people might be excluded if not thought about in the early stages of design. You can set the calculator for multiple capacities, such as sight, hearing, thinking and locomotion – all of which are needed to negotiate public transport, for example. A very useful tool for any designer.


Urban design and active living

An infographic from the guide focused on buildings.Healthy active living is a good thing but it isn’t just about joining an exercise class or a gym. It’s about a whole of life approach to a process none of us can avoid – ageing. So it begins with the design of our built environment – the everyday places and spaces, including our homes. But does being ‘active by design’ include thoughts of older people and people with disability? 

Healthy Active by Design is a Heart Foundation online resource. This website is a practical guide that offers evidence, advice and examples to assist with the development of healthy and active neighbourhoods. It covers:

Public Open Space
Community Facilities
Housing Diversity
Sense of Place
Movement Networks
Healthy Food

Each section leads to more information and checklists. There is little mention of older people and people with disability in any of the section checklists. “Accessible” and “accessibility” are mentioned a few times but these terms mean different things to different practitioners. 

In terms of housing, this is expressed as housing choice and aged care facilities and specialised accommodation. Unfortunately, old assumptions about the accommodation needs of older people are solved by age-segregation. While the guide is focused on younger cohorts it offers good information for taking a whole of built environment approach to active design. The video below gives an outline. 

Editor’s Comment: I think this is another case of an organisation forgetting the National Disability Strategy which should be considered from the outset. It’s likely that hired consultants have no idea about the overarching Australian policies when devising resources. Inclusion, by definition, is not something separate to add at the end.



Increase sales with inclusive design

logo of Design Council. white lettering on red backgroundWhen a UK theatre embedded inclusive design in their new building they had a 25% rise in ticket sales from people with disability. This is one example in the Design Council a video showing what is possible with some preliminary design thinking. It showcases several organisations and their approach to embedding inclusion into the design of buildings and services – that includes social inclusion. Community engagement was a big part of the design process: “A lot of ordinary people were involved in the design”.

One interviewee explains how people don’t always use buildings the way you think they will. Consequently it is important to understand the diversity of users with lived experience of the built environment. The video shows several examples – a playground for children and adults alike, transport systems, information systems and devices. It’s down to the details that matter – Barclays bank has a teller machine that includes a spot to hang your walking stick. The theatre mentioned above is also featured. The video is 8 minutes and is captioned.

COVID-19 Screens and hearing augmentation

A man wearing a striped apron passes is behind an acrylic screen. A woman on the other side of the screen is paying for her goods.Acrylic screens have appeared at almost every reception desk in response to covid-safe requirements. But without related hearing augmentation installed, it makes it harder to hear each other.  If people are wearing masks as well, this makes it worse. 

We are familiar with screens at ticket offices, such as train stations, where hearing augmentation systems are mandatory. An article by Bruce Bromley explains how these new reception desk screens contravene the building code if they don’t have hearing augmentation. When businesses installed new screen, few, if any, thought about the communication problems they would cause. And if they did, they perhaps thought we could all live with it.  We need respond to this issue because being covid-safe looks like being a new normal. 

Any service or business that recently installed an acrylic screen at reception should look at finding a hearing augmentation system. It will benefit the receptionist and the customer. Plug and play solutions are available where there is a microphone and speaker on both sides of the screen. I suspect that these screens will not disappear even if and when covid does. It’s all part of adjusting to the “new normal”.

Editor’s comment: Sometimes I find myself or the receptionist ducking around the screen to hear and to be heard. So the screens only work some of the time.

Movement and Place: A guide

Front cover of the movement and place guide.Transportation is more than trains, planes and automobiles. The design of the built environment can make or break a successful transportation system. Transport for NSW and the state government architect recognise this and have come up with a great guide to movement and place. 

The guide aims to change some established ways of working so that we get better places and better outcomes. It outlines:

      • a collaborative method for practitioners, stakeholders, and the community 
      • shared responsibility and a shared language to support collaboration 
      • a process for implementing this approach in decisions and project types
      • criteria for measuring and evaluating movement and place now and in future projects

The Practitioner’s Guide to Movement and Place has three main sections. The introduction to the concept and implementing a place based approach cover the practicalities. The third section is more about understanding why this approach is important. The guide is necessarily technical in places and has a reference list at the end.

Established working practices and standards are likely to change, according to the guide. It is asking professionals to think differently about their role in creating successful places. 

There is a companion guide, Aligning Movement and Place. 

Editor’s Note: I couldn’t find a mention of accessibility and inclusion. I assume that practitioners will make this part of the process, but that means it will likely rely on existing standards.  Aboriginal custodians get a mention.

Access Insight newsletter: focus on parking

Front cover of magazine showing an accessible parking space.Accessible parking spaces are the focus in the latest issue of the access consultants newsletter. Each contributor offers a different perspective on the topic. Nick Morris gives a personal story, and Howard Mutrie and Eric Martin get technical with standards. Rachel Whymark discusses car parking related to Specialist Disability Accommodation. As with all standards there are always some anomalies and these are discussed.  

You can read the magazine online using ISSUU, or you can download the PDF version.  

You can also see back issues of the newsletter on the ACAA website