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

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.

Cities People Love: Letting children play

Line drawing by Natalia Krysiak showing children playing in a street in Cities People Love article.r
Play Street drawing by Natalia Krysiak

Cities People Love website has an article about prioritising children over cars. Designing streets to actively encourage play is a growing trend in Europe. The concept, known as ‘Woonerf’ was originally implemented in the Netherlands and Belgium. It aims to equally balance the needs of drivers with those of pedestrians, cyclists and children at play. 

Signage, low speed limits and traffic calming bumps and bends are part of the solution. Temporary street closures are another strategy to encourage play. It’s a collective responsibility to ensure the safety of children playing.  

Natalia Krysiak’s article is titled, Cities for Play: Designing streets that prioritise children over cars. In one example, she describes the design of the Hackney Play Street which has rocks, logs and a cubby house. The picture below clearly shows the seating, a log and tree plantings following the route of the footpath. 

The street has a wide nature strip alongside the footpath with seating, grassed area and a log. Hackney Play Street design by Muf Architecture.
Image from Cities People Love: Hackney Play Street















Krysiak says we should start questioning why the convenience of drivers is prioritised over the health and wellbeing of children in street design. After all, placing children’s play at the heart of neighbourhood design benefits everyone. 

There are links to other publications, one of which is Designing Child-Friendly High Density Neighbourhoods. 

The 1000 Play Streets Toolkit is a great Australian resource. The Toolkit is specifically designed with advice for local governments.


Hospitals with healing design

Entrance to the emergency section of a hospital. Hospitals with healing design.An article in The Conversation draws our attention to the need to have separate waiting rooms, specifically designed for indigenous patients. This is because they often leave emergency rooms without receiving treatment. But does that mean non-indigenous patients feel comfortable in waiting rooms? Probably not – we all feel uncomfortable and anxious in hospitals. We need hospitals with healing design.

The title of the article is, Making space: how designing hospitals for Indigenous people might benefit everyone. The article explains design features to improve hospital design. The research is by Timothy O’Rourke and Daphne Nash from University of Queensland. 

Although the article doesn’t mention universal design specifically, cross cultural awareness to create inclusive spaces and places is synonymous with universal design. There are links to other resources in the article. 

Hospital design and dementia 

Floor plan of a hospital setting showing different spaces.The Dementia Enabling Environment Virtual Information Centre has a section on the design of hospitals. This interactive web tool shows a layout of a typical section of a hospital. Clicking on each room takes you to another page which is illustrated with Before and After features. A slide bar takes you between the Before and After illustrations. Design ideas for the staff station, bed area, patient or family lounge and reception area show how a few tweaks can make the place more dementia friendly. For a more in-depth guide see the guide from Ireland on using a universal design approach.

Patients at the centre of hospital design.

A large reception area with soft seating in the new hospital.
Image courtesy Halkin Mason in FastCompany article

No-one wants to go to hospital, either as a patient or a visitor. This is especially the case in hospital wards where children are very unwell. Putting families and patients at the centre of hospital design makes for a more welcoming place. 

An article in FastCompany tells how a design committee made up of families of patients acted as an advisory group. Parents whose babies and children experienced long-term hospital stays were consulted. Useful information emerged such as the distance to bathrooms and the lack of privacy for dying children.

The feedback was instrumental in guiding the final design. For example, the devastating experience of watching child die in an open ICU bay led to having only private rooms. Doctors’ experiences with over-stimulated children guided colour and lighting choices. Natural light and access to outdoor spaces were also essential. 

The end result was not perfect, but the participatory design process made the hospital a better place. Clinical staff also informed the design process and made them think about the way they deliver care. 

The article is titled, See inside a hospital designed by patients, and has several highlight the design ideas. 

A related article is the presentation by Stefano Scalzo at UD2021 Conference. 


Dementia Friendly Assessment Tool

Front cover of the Dementia Friendly Assessment Tool. It has lime green with text and a man bending down to pet a wallaby.The Dementia Friendly Community Environmental Assessment Tool provides a relatively simple checklist. It takes in many of the regular aspects of accessibility overlaid with design thought for people with dementia. A good place to start your thinking.

The more recent online resource from Dementia Training Australia expands on the 2015 edition and goes into more detail. Sections can be downloaded separately. There are three parts in the handbook:

    • 1 ‘Key Design Principles’ contains a description of key design principles.
    • 2 ‘The Dementia Friendly Community – Environmental Assessment Tool introduces the tool and provides directions for its use.
    • 3 ‘Using the Spreadsheet’ contains a guide to scoring and showing the results graphically.  

This assessment tool is No. 5 in a set of 7 resources within the Environmental Design Resources Handbook.

There is also a free app to guide you through an assessment on the strengths and weaknesses of buildings for people with dementia. The website has more resources covering both community living and residential care.  

The story of Moments Café

Café counter scene with a person ordering at the counter. The story of the Moments Café.
The Moments Café

Good to see some creative thinking in opening a café that welcomes people with dementia. The Design Council article explains how this café started with two women who were working in a dementia care facility. They wanted to do more for people living in the community. And so begins the story of the Moments Café. 

With financial support from the local council and a crowdfunding campaign they raised sufficient funds to get the Moments Cafe up and running. Moments Café is a Social Enterprise based in the heart of Plymouth City Centre. The offer a safe environment for people to meet, eat and socialise and all of the profits go towards Memory Matters.

The Café has an office facility above and this is used as an administrative centre for the additional activities they run. The article is one case study in the Design Council Transform Ageing series. 

Accessibility of public space

A pedestrian zone in a city street. Accessibility of public space.Infrastructure built before disability activists gained legal recognition of their human rights is often inaccessible. Newer buildings have basic access according to the standards imposed by governments. However, standards are no guarantee for full access for everyone. Consequently, urban researchers continue to write in the hope of effecting change for the accessibility of public space. 

A chapter in the book, Future of the City, is yet another offering about universal design and how accessibility is for everyone. This one includes a chart with solutions for typical barriers. These solutions are prescriptive with dimensions and measurements. The chart covers paths of travel, vertical travel, spatial elements and fittings, and transportation infrastructure.

Photographs and good examples illustrate the points made. The information is useful for councils and capital works staff. It fits neatly with the Age Friendly Checklist for Councils.

The title of the open access chapter is Accessibility of pubic space. Although there are some language differences in disability terms, the article is easy to read and makes some clear points. For example,

“For many people leading an independent life may be fully conditional on the accessibility of public spaces. Through accessible places, such people have a chance to participate in the social and economic life of the country or local society.”

“It is estimated that up to 30% of society have permanent or temporary limitations in mobility or perception. Many of these people do not have the status of a disabled person. Therefore, it can be said that accessibility concerns all of us.”

The chapter concludes with a comment about the gradual change in the accessibility of public buildings. However, there is more work to do. 

Design for Dignity Guidelines

Front cover of the Design for Dignity Guidelines.The Design for Dignity guidelines cover all the elements in a major urban renewal project. The guide is based on the principles applied in the development of Barangaroo South in Sydney. It covers public domain, wayfinding, commercial and retail precincts, and workplaces. Stakeholder engagement is also covered. The pictures clearly explain the do’s and don’ts and why the details matter. The guide is comprehensive and easy to read, and has a list of resources at the end.

The story behind these guidelines began when Lend Lease commenced the development of Barangaroo South. Their policy was to to go beyond the bare minimums of compliance to standards. They felt they could do better and strive for a universal design approach. With the assistance of Australian Network on Disability (AND) and Westpac, they developed Design for Dignity Guidelines: Principles for beyond compliance accessibility in urban regeneration

There are two case studies from Barangaroo South. The public domain case study is about the process of consulting with disability stakeholders. The second case study is about achieving dignified access in a mixed commercial space.  This is an excellent resource for interior designers as well as urban planners. The details explain why going beyond access standards is important. 

See also the companion guide for retail. 

Age friendly checklist for councils

four older women using wheelie walkers are crossing the road in single file. Age friendly checklistMaking an urban area friendly for older people doesn’t have to be difficult. If we want to encourage older adults to get out and about it comes down to five key things. Footpaths, Seating, Wayfinding, Toilets and Lighting. These are explained simply in a four page age friendly checklist designed for local government. Each feature has a rationale, the basic requirements, additional enhancements, and what to avoid. 

Briefly the five key things are:

      1. Footpaths should be provided on both sides of the street and wide enough for two mobility devices to pass. 
      2. Seating placed at regular intervals and set back from the pedestrian path of travel.
      3. Wayfinding and street signage should have plain fonts, colour contrast and non-reflective surfaces. Architectural landmarks also provide wayfinding cues. 
      4. Toilets should be sufficient in number, clean, and well maintained. Provide at least on unisex toilet and an accessible path of travel to all toilets. 
      5. Lighting is not just a safety issue. It should be even and without glare and placed to minimise pools or strips of light. 

In a similar way, an article in The Conversation highlights 8 things to help people age well and stay active. Footpaths head the list followed by pedestrian networks, slowed traffic, street crossings, accessible public transport, seating, shade and lighting. The article has many links to more detail and the research behind each of the features. It is easy to see that these factors are good for all ages.

Front cover of the WHO guide for age friendly cities.The WHO Guide for Age Friendly Cities remains an good resource with more detailed information. 


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