Post pandemic public spaces

The Post Pandemic Public Spaces documentary series is about the future of our public spaces and the influence of the pandemic. The documentary was produced as part of the the work of the Urbanism faculty at TU Delft.

Eight researchers discuss their views on the future of our public spaces in a series of interviews. The researchers walk the streets as they describe the lack of accessibility and unequal access to public space. The video is subtitled in English.

This video focuses on mobility. Other videos focus on behaviour, challenges, and the final one concludes the discussion.

A cityscape with a foreground of parkland and woodland.

We can all agree that the COVID 19 crisis has affected everyday life. It has forced inhabitants to change their routines and thus the use of public spaces and amenities.

From the abstract

The fourth episode of the series presents the topic ‘Inequality’. In line with last episode, it is important to remember how mobility relates to (in)equality. The measurements taken during COVID-19 outbreak, such as social distancing and staying home, has shown that not everyone has or can have the same pattern, and/or is able to have equal patterns.

Public spaces in different neighbourhoods have different qualities. The pandemic has shown that not everyone lives under the same conditions and has equal access to public spaces. Distances to recreational (green) spaces can differ greatly, there is unequal safety along the routes. Places to sit and stay and relax are also not equal.

Public space is subject to power structures and the distribution of resources, and are unequal almost by definition, and consequently access isn’t available for everyone.

How can we create a more inclusive network of public space? How can we create an active human space at the street level? What public amenities and facilities should we include? Is privately-owned public space a (fair) solution? Can we create common spaces on the roof, for example? What needs to be done in different neighbourhoods to contribute to a just city?


London’s inclusive design standards

The London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) is similar to the Sydney Olympic Park Authority. They are both focused on maintaining the benefits of hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Sydney claimed the title of “most accessible games ever” and then the title went to London. Inclusive design is now a priority in all developments related to the Olympic precinct, and London’s Inclusive Design Standards are designed to show the way.

“Venues excelled in their inclusive design and the story could have ended there. However, LLDC embraced this approach and made ‘Championing equalities and inclusion’ one of their four corporate priority themes.”

Broness Grey-Thompson LLDC Board Member
Two people walk either side of a woman using a wheelchair. They are on a wide path in a parkland area. Inclusive Design Standards front cover.
Front cover of the Standards

Inclusive design is the favoured term in the UK while other countries and the United Nations use universal design. They mean the same thing – creating inclusive societies.

The Inclusive Design Standards begin with all the relevant legislation and standards followed by a page on how to use the document. The standards have four key parts: inclusive neighbourhoods, movement, residential, and public buildings. Each part has two sections – the design intent and the inclusive guidelines. The guidance is just that and design teams can create solutions that achieve the same outcomes.

The document is comprehensive in covering every aspect of development and design in great detail. Each section lists the intent of the design – the why – and then lists actions. Each section includes case studies and photographs illustrate ideas. The bibliography has additional resources.

This is clearly a standards document and not a guide. It has numbered clauses for designers to reference. As such, it is not an accessible document itself. The language and size of text makes for detailed reading. A summary document with the key points would be useful as a starter.

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 to 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.

Making streets safer for pedestrians

Aerial view of an intersection where bright artworks are painted on the corners of the intersection.

There’s a simple way to make streets safer for pedestrians.

According to a Fast Company article, most serious accidents happen at intersections. One way to prevent them is not a new traffic signal but a bucket of paint. Street art, literally on the roadway at intersections, seems to provide one solution.

The bright colours are difficult for drivers to miss and tend to cause them to slow down. Or at least, to be more cautious and more attentive to pedestrians. If it works as a traffic calming solution then it’s a good idea. However, is it a good idea for all pedestrians?

People with cognitive conditions and reduced visual perception could find the painted surfaces distracting. While the street art is welcome on the endless asphalt, it would be good to get user testing from different groups.

Aerial view of a street intersection showing the street art painted on the road surface. There is a mix of different brightly coloured patterns.

Don’t need new signals, just a bucket of paint.

The Fast Company article has many pictures of attractive brightly coloured artworks at intersections which tell the story. The pilot project was funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies and now it’s being rolled out in different states.

More than three quarters of the projects studied saw reduced traffic crashes after the artworks were installed. Now Bloomberg Philanthropies plans to continue the work in Europe.

The title of the article is, “The ridiculously simple way to make streets safer for pedestrians”.

Photos from the Fast Company blog site.

Is citizen science the same as co-design?

People sit around round tables discussing questions. There are four round tables shown in this picture. Is citizen science the same as co-design.Co-design is a term emerging in the field of accessible and inclusive design. But co-design methods have been around for a long time in one form or another. Academics will recognise this as Participatory Action Research. And now we have citizen science in planning. Is citizen science the same as co-design? In this context, yes. The common theme is that the people affected by design decisions help to shape them. 

The Fifth Estate has an article that discusses citizen science as a method of community engagement in planning. It explains citizen science as a type of research that actively involved members of the public in the research process.  Regardless, it makes sense to involve users in the process of the design. This is something the universal design movement has been advocating for some time. 

“Citizen science has a long history in conservation and environmental monitoring, but has grown in momentum in recent years across a range of disciplines, including planning and urban design.

Walkability in Tasmania

A citizen science approach is where residents audit the the local environment for barriers to walking. Residents identify priorities by using a walkability assessment tool taking photos, and participating in workshops. The information gathered is not only useful at a local level, but at state and national levels as well. 

” Our use of citizen science is enabling researchers, policy makers and community members to work together to generate data and establish priorities to support walkability that reflects community needs.”

The article concludes that community engagement in planning is hard to do well. However,  citizen science and customised technology are useful tools to shape urban design based on resident experiences. 

The title of the article is, Using citizen science o bring people backing into planning walkable and healthy places. There is a link to more resources from Communities 4 Walkability. 

The Age Friendly Checklist for Councils was derived from many consultations across NSW in 2012. The process was workshops, photos and resident experiences shared with local government staff. The content is explained further in a short webinar presentation. Reminder – what’s good for older people is good for everyone.

 

Designing with autism in mind

Floor Plan, Blueprint, House, Home. Designing for autism.Well designed buildings support people with physical impairment, but what about people with sensory issues or cognitive conditions? Shelly Dival argues that designing with autism in mind supports people with autism in education, work and home environments. 

Dival’s Churchill Fellowship report outlines building features requiring further research, including design theories, methods and outcomes. Her findings are also featured in an architecture magazine. Dival’s key recommendation is for best practice guidelines, and updating policies to include neurological access.  

One of her insights was the crossover between autism and other neurological conditions including dementia. Designing for neurodiversity rather than specific conditions may be an effective future-proofing strategy that supports everyone. That’s similar to the approach adopted by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) in their Guidelines on cognitive accessibility, based on the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework.  

Autism: Is it a disorder?

A young woman sits on a boardwalk next to water. She has her knees drawn up and is resting her head on her arms and knees. It depicts a level of loneliness or sadness. Autism and the social model of disability. People who are neurodiverse often struggle to shed the the idea that they have some kind of disorder. A medical diagnosis is part of the problem – they become a category, a label. This is particularly the case for people with autism. And there are no two people alike. But what they do share in common is a relatively high suicide rate. Why would this be the case?

Richard Woods explores how the social model of disability can be, and should be, applied to this group. But it might not be enough. Negative language is a major barrier to inclusion based on the medical diagnosis label. Woods argues that the social model fails to explain how any disability is experienced by individuals. Categorisation under a label is limiting and does little to shift community attitudes and improve individuals’ mental health. In conclusion, the paper calls for the “full emancipation of the autistic population”. An interesting read.

The title of the paper is, Exploring how the social model of disability can be reinvigorated: in response to Jonathan Levitt

Autism isn’t a disorder

A graphic and logo for Autism Awareness. Autism and the social model of disability. Neurodiverse advocate Siena Castellon, wrote a book for teenage girls based on her own experiences. In a New Scientist article Siena relates the common misconception that she should look different in some way. Because she doesn’t, most people think that she can’t be autistic. This is not a compliment. You can see more of Siena’s story in the New Scientist article, Autism isn’t a defect – here’s why we should embrace neurodiversity. There are more links in the article for further reading. 

Voices of autism in a book

Front cover of the text book.The autism research field has changed a lot in the last 20 years. We now know the impact the research process itself has on people with autism. With this in mind, a new version of a text book has sections written by autistic contributors from all walks of life. 

There is a separate link to the discussion on how the authors went about including people with the lived experience of autism. This link also gives a short chapter by chapter review of the book’s content.

The title of the book is, Autism: A new introduction to psychological theory and current debate. It’s by Sue Fletcher-Watson and Francesca Happe. 

 

Multigenerational planning and universal design

Four generations. A baby, father, grandfather and great-grandfather. Multigenerational.
Four generations

There is much talk about population ageing but not much ‘doing’. Urban design is still stuck in age segmentation mode – separate places for children and older people. For example, playgrounds for children and senior citizen centres and ‘homes’ for older people. What we need is more multigenerational planning using universal design principles.

A man is enjoying himself on exercise equipment in a play space for older adults.

Playgrounds with exercise equipment for “seniors” is the new thing. But grandparents have been taking children to playgrounds since they were invented.  As it turns out, small children like the exercise equipment – it’s adventure play to them!  But not all places meet the needs of both young and old. 

Planners need to simultaneously consider the different needs of young and old in future projects. That’s the advice of a briefing paper on Multigenerational Planning. Key issues are mobility and access to services, housing affordability, walkability, and density. 

Younger and older generations share similar safety risks, especially as pedestrians. Parents fear of crime is for their children and their own parents. 

What can planners do?

Cross-generational collaboration is a good start, but it also has to consider other population dimensions. Migrants, people with disability, gender identity, and social and cultural inclusion. The key points in the briefing paper are:

Keypoint 1: Multigenerational planning creates new coalition building opportunities. Different populations don’t always recognise their reliance on each other. Each age segment defends its narrow position creating missed opportunities.

Keypoint 2: Civic participation and engagement is fundamental to multigenerational planning. Children and young people have their own wisdom and older people often have neighbourhood networks. Bringing them together provides better outcomes rather than engaging separately. 

Keypoint 3: Multigenerational planning users smart growth principles.  Programs and smart growth policies that target older people and children provide multigenerational benefits. 

Keypoint 4: Multigenerational planning applies universal design principles. The guiding philosophy is to design spaces with the ability to meet the changing needs of users. Universal design promotes accessibility, safety, flexibility, functionality, simplicity, and comfort. Housing should meet basic access standards too so that everyone can visit each other at home. 

There is much more for planners in this fourteen page paper. 

The title of the briefing paper is, Multigenerational Planning: Using smart growth and universal design to link the needs of children and the ageing population. It was published by the American Planning Association. 

 

Roadblocks to inclusive streets

Three people rescue a mail delivery man and his electric vehicle after it rolled over after hitting an electrical distribution box which was placed too close to the pedestrian right of way. Note there is no footpath, only grass.
Mail delivery vehicle crashes into an electrical services box. Note no footpath only grass.

Streets are essential to mobility and that means pedestrians, not just motor vehicles. Dangerous intersections, pedestrian crossings, steep kerb ramps and those utility vaults make wheeling a nightmare. Steve Wright says that universal design is what we should be aiming for. That’s because there are a hundred ways a street can deny mobility to a wheelchair user. And if they deny a wheelchair user, they can deny people unsteady on their feet and make pushing a stroller difficult. Wright lists his top 8 roadblocks to inclusive streets.

8 Roadblocks to inclusive streets

Narrow footpaths: If two wheelchairs or two strollers cannot pass each other than it is too narrow. Many footpaths don’t even accommodate two people walking side by side. Even where a footpath has sufficient width, there can be other obstructions. 

Too many stakeholders: Several agencies have a stake in the footpath – hence the many access covers scattered throughout the paving. And then there is street furniture and rubbish bins. 

Crappy kerb ramp: Problems often arise where a steep ramp into the gutter meets a steep rise onto the roadway. The deep V means wheeled mobility devices get stuck half way. Then there is the kerb ramp set on a corner that means people have to roll into oncoming traffic. And of course, there are mis-matched ramps which don’t line up to create a straight line across the roadway.

Traffic calming islands and safe havens: These must be at least wide enough to take a mobility scooter and an adult pushing a stroller. And not everyone can cross a wide street quickly. Mid-way points are a must if traffic takes priority.

Cross slopes and cambers: Narrow streets also mean that driveways and kerb ramps cut into the footpath creating cross-falls that are difficult for wheeled mobility users. 

Footpath closures: Construction projects seem to be blissfully unaware of the havoc they create with their “no pedestrians” or “pedestrians this way” signs. And some of these are not just for a day – they can be for years. 

Pedestrian crossing buttons out of reach: While the button might technically be at the right height, sometimes the pole it’s on isn’t within reach. 

Transportation decision makers don’t have a disability: Transportation projects go to contractors and subcontractors with many other stakeholders involved. They would do well to embrace some co-design methods. 

Wright discusses the issues in more detail from a US perspective.  He says:

“Universal design is what we should be aiming for, but there are 100 ways that even the most well-intended complete street can deny mobility to wheelchair users due to poor design, implementation, maintenance, and even policy.”

Wayfinding system audit checklist

Front cover of the wayfinding systems audit checklist.Wayfinding is often considered as just signage instead of site or building legibility. A wayfinding system involves buildings, open space, lighting, and landmarks. It’s about providing consistent clues to help people navigate indoor and outdoor spaces. Wayfinding should be integrated into the design process in the early stages instead of being added as an afterthought. To help designers, the CRC for Construction Innovation has devised a wayfinding system audit checklist.

The Wayfinding Systems Audit checklist provides guidance for designing wayfinding systems. There is a mix of Australian Standards, thoughtful design, and end user convenience. It includes:

      • The application of tactile ground surface indicators (TGSI)
      • Signage and graphic communication
      • Auditory communication
      • Maps

The audit checklist supports the Wayfinding Design Guidelines also produced by the CRC. The many photographs illustrate key points.

Some basic principles

Provide frequent directional cues throughout the space, particularly at decision points along journeys in both directions.

The design of decision points must be logical, rational and obvious to a sighted user, ensuring the directional cues relate directly to a building or landscape space. Ensure sequencing and that the priority and grouping of message signs is unambiguous.

Design and implement a ‘naming protocol’ by choosing a theme for segregating places and spaces. Use names and symbols easily remembered by users from diverse cultural backgrounds. 

Consider incorporating information in multiple languages or incorporating pictograms when devising a naming protocol.

Ensure the physical placement, installation and illumination of signage is suitable for all users.

Published in 2007 by the CRC for Construction Innovation, supported by the Queensland Government. The CRC came to an end in 2009. The Australian Standard for Wayfinding (AS1428.4.2) was updated in 2018.

The Victorian Department of Health also has a useful wayfinding checklist for hospitals and health facilities. 

Audit also in previous post
https://universaldesignaustralia.net.au/systems-audit-for-wayfinding/

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. 

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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.

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