Universal design for inclusion

Professor Ilaria Garofolo writes an interesting essay on the role of universal design and inclusion. Garofolo claims technical handbooks based on regulations related to accessibility have reduced built environmental barriers but they haven’t resulted in inclusiveness. The outdated focus on compliance remains an underpinning feature of design culture.

“Taking into consideration the needs and preferences of persons should be the core of design, and in particular the design for inclusion…”

A narrow pedestrian street with market stalls and shops. A caring city is an inclusive city.

Built environment professionals argue that universal design is a good principle, but difficult to practice. The belief that universal design costs more doesn’t help matters. Providing readymade solutions or schematics are not the answer either. Such schematics contain stereotypes and generalisations referring to disability. While they might guarantee compliance they limit the continuing improvement aspect of universal design.

The term inclusion should define the orientation of society towards people. However, the term is often juxtaposed, and sometimes even confused, with the word integration. Unlike integration, which tends to counter the differences, inclusion entails the acceptance of all diversities and peculiarities of the individual.


The understanding of the relationship between people and their built environment is often missing. Participatory co-design methods, particularly with people with disability, are the way to overcome this divide. All the technical knowledge and expertise does not provide knowledge on how design impacts everyday living.

Fostering universal design through education

Diverse and dedicated subjects and master classes have arisen in higher education worldwide.

Although universal is increasingly permeating design education, it remains difficult to interpret as anything more than a set of good intentions.

A long room with a long table with students sitting both sides. They are working on a design project.

Experiential learning is an important part of the universal design curriculum as well as interdisciplinary collaboration. Personal experience and design workshops with users and trained designers provide a practical understanding of universal design.

“To design inclusively means to educate professionals to think inclusively and to work in collaborative teams composed of diverse groups of people.”

A mosaic of many different faces and nationalities

The title of the short essay is, The Role and Implication of UD to Foster Inclusion in Built Environments.

From the abstract

The level of inclusion of all members of society in community activities is a fundamental indicator of a civil society’s progress. There is increasing evidence that diversity and inclusion are linked to positive outcomes.

The universal design approach is increasingly recognized as the one that helps to shape physical and virtual environments. That’s so that it can be accessed, understood, and used to the greatest extent possible by all people, regardless of their diversity. Thus, making a more inclusive society for all.

This short essay summarizes some reflections resulting from studies, research and field practices reported by literature, and also experienced by the author in her training as a researcher and university professor.

Attention is focused on some critical issues and implications inherent in the practical application of universal design principles. Also, the importance of its multidisciplinary dimension, which also entails a different attitude towards the training of professionals.

Cost of universal design in buildings

The cost of implementing universal design in buildings is little, if any, in new buildings. This is not new information for followers of universal design. However, many developers and designers find this difficult to believe. Consequently, this perceived cost becomes a barrier to implementation. New research by Elke Ielegems and Jan Vanrie shines a light on the real costs.

Yes, universal design costs more in building renovations, but a lot less in new builds. That’s why it’s important to think universal design from the outset. It’s not an added extra.

Three shiny blue apartment towers rise into the sky.

The researchers looked at other studies on cost and found they used different ways of measuring it. One used fixed prices to determine cost but without contextual factors. Another combined practitioners’ experience to find optimal solutions to provide a more realistic estimation. However, they both rely on hypothetical cases.

Ielegems and Vanrie’s work combined these methods and used real buildings. In their study they focused on accessibility but claim a similar approach could be applied from a universal design perspective.

Comparing renovations with new build costs

The paper takes readers through the methods and the development of universal design evaluation criteria. This is followed by the selection of building projects. The calculations are detailed in terms of where costs were reduced or increased. Comparisons are made by building type and by building elements.

The study focused on direct costs of construction and used a baseline of “as-is situation” for comparison of renovation and new build scenarios. That is, how much more, or less, did each of the proposed changes cost compared to the current as-is situation.

Costs are lower for new build

The building type and size has an influence on costs. In line with previous studies the results showed the costs for new builds varied between 0.94% of total cost and 3.92% of total cost. Renovations were between 2.24% of total cost and 14.9% of total cost. Circulation space and exterior ramps and stairs were the most expensive for the renovation scenario.

The title of the paper is, The cost of universal design for public buildings: exploring a realistic, context-dependent research approach, published by Emerald Insight.

The other question is whether cost should be the deciding factor, or whether equity and inclusion should be the foremost consideration. This would negate the need for carrying out a comparative evaluation.

From the abstract

Implementing universal design faces the challenge of perceived additional cost, which acts as a barrier to its widespread adoption. Other studies that have examined the cost fail to account for the design context that influences construction costs. This article presents a research methodology to calculate the cost in a realistic, context-dependent manner.

A “Research-by-Design” was applied to twelve cases: secondary schools, town halls and small retail shops. Two scenarios are compared: renovating a building to be 100% inclusive, and building fully inclusive from the outset.

Although the methodology is time-consuming, it allows for a fair, realistic and detailed comparison between costs in different cases. Findings show how financial implications are strongly related to its scale.

Both “renovation” and “new build” scenarios involve costs, but these are considerably lower for the latter. “Circulation” and “Exterior stairs and ramps” are among the most expensive to renovate. However, they have almost no additional cost for the “new build scenario”.

This study provides valuable insights for architects, designers and stakeholders involved in the implementation of universal design. It offers a realistic and context-dependent approach to assess the cost implications. This enables informed decision-making during the design and construction phases.

Using real cases and their unique design contexts, the true costs of implementing universal design in the built environment are revealed.

Barriers and drivers for architects

In a 2019 paper, Ielegems reports on the barriers and drivers for universal design within the architectural community. She found that barriers and drivers were attitudinal, practical and knowledge-based.

Attitudinal aspects related to a mindset about the values of dignity and equality and a genuine lack of understanding about universal design. There is also a misconception that this is about a special group and that aesthetics are compromised.

A floor plan drawing with a black pen

Practical aspects are based on time and budget limitations and perceptions of extra cost. Time restrictions are related to client demands and commercial interests trump social advantages.

Lack of knowledge about universal design is a perceived barrier for practitioners. Available user information is disregarded in favour of designer needs and preferences. Designers are not willing to to adapt their ways of thinking and working. This is largely due to information not being presented in a design-relevant format.

Information about universal design

Ielegems also found that respondents didn’t need more information, but they needed more centralised information in a design-relevant format. More awareness among key stakeholders and clients is crucial to changing perceptions of universal design. In addition, the current accessibility regulations influence the creation of “tunnel vision” regarding universal design. This leads to an accessibility perspective instead of a perspective of inclusion.

The title of the paper is, Drivers and Barriers for Universal Designing: A survey on architects’ perceptions.

In contrast to other studies, this one specifically focuses on factors that affect the decision to implement universal design at the beginning of the design process. Adopting a universal design strategy at the very start of the process is important for accomplishing the goal of inclusion.

Performance codes and universal design

architectural plans on a desk. Universal design needs performance codes.
Performance codes could help

In another study, 700 Danish architectural firms shared their experience of the accessibility requirements in the Danish Building Regulations. Participants thought a performance-based model would be better suited to support accessibility criteria. However, performance codes would be insufficient to promote universal design in architecture. 

The authors of Do Performance-Based Codes Support Universal Design in Architecture, claim professionals’ understanding is client orientated rather than citizen orientated. In addition, architects’ understanding of inclusiveness was relatively limited. Consequently, a performance-based model would not in itself promote inclusive architecture.

Public open space and gender

The COVID pandemic made us all realise how important urban public open space is for our wellbeing. However, the enjoyment of public open space is not equally shared across genders. A study from Greece found that all genders found the more “easily accessible” the public space, the more safe they felt.

The notion of “easily accessible” includes visibility from immediate surroundings and from a distance. It also means ease of movement and efficient connections to public transport.

Urban landscape with shade trees and lots of casual seating with people sitting. Going beyond minimum standards.

Women felt less safe than men during the pandemic, particularly in the evening and night hours. The researchers found public space maintenance was strongly related to perceptions of safety. Well maintained and managed outdoor spaces were viewed as safer during the evening and night hours.

In summary, well-maintained, accessible, places that feel secure both day and night are more likely to foster feelings of relaxation. The key design elements for urban public space are:

  • Good visibility and lighting
  • Increase the number of public spaces in urban area
  • Design streets with pedestrian safety in mind
  • Provide safe and accessible public transport
  • Enhance women’s participation in the design process
An older woman walks beside a younger woman in a park.

The title of the article is, Safe and Inclusive Urban Public Spaces: A Gendered Perspective. The Case of Attica’s Public Spaces During the COVID-19 Pandemic in Greece.

From the abstract

The COVID-19 pandemic caused significant disruptions in everyday life, including restrictions on social activities and physical separation. Urban public spaces became popular places for people to relax and socialize while keeping physical distance.

Gender and other social identities, on the other hand, have a major influence on people’s perceptions of safety in these public places. The goal of this research was to look into the relationship between perceptions of safety, relaxation, and gender in urban public places during the pandemic.

We found that women were more likely than men to report feeling unsafe in public places. Women’s feelings of insecurity hampered their ability to relax and enjoy these spaces, possibly limiting their access to public spaces and the benefits they provide.

There is an obvious interrelation between easily accessible open public spaces and safety. The findings outline the significance of inclusive design and planning for public spaces in order to guarantee safety and promote well-being.

Building industry perspectives on universal design

Architects and other design professionals are in a position to educate their clients about universal design. However, their own lack of knowledge is passing up this opportunity. Understanding building industry perspectives on universal design is a good start for unravelling the issues.

Zallio and Clarkson’s study spans disciplines of behavioural science, ergonomics and the social sciences of architecture. It uncovered the challenges architectural practitioners face when designing inclusively.

A man in work overalls stands with his back to the camera. Next to him is a man in a check shir and hard hat pointing to a multi storey building in the background.

One of the challenges is the scarcity of standards and policies, and limited willingness to build the business case for inclusion. The research pinpoints where interventions and tools could have a positive impact. This paper builds on previous work shown in the sections below.

The title of the paper is, A study to depict challenges and opportunities building industry professionals face when designing inclusive and accessible buildings.

From the abstract

Inclusive Design is widely promoted in the fields of product, engineering, and user experience design. However, Inclusive Design is not widely embraced in architectural
design practice, where it is often associated with design for disability.

This multidisciplinary study explores the challenges architectural design practitioners face when designing inclusively, and identifies opportunities to promote the adoption of Inclusive Design.

The results of a questionnaire completed by 114 architectural design practitioners underscore the lack of client awareness of the benefits of inclusive design. Practitioners have an important role to play in advocating for Inclusive Design. There is a need to develop practices and tools that enhance the design and post-design phases of buildings to ensure inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility.

Inclusive Design Canvas

Many designers know about universal design but don’t yet know what makes a design inclusive and accessible. The Inclusive Design Canvas helps architects to engage in co-design processes and assess their designs for inclusivity.

The image is from Zallio’s IDEA Toolbox

A button link to the Inclusive Design Canvas. Its says, Embrace empathy and get new ideas with the inclusive design canvas.

How is it possible to educate architecture design professionals to reduce points of exclusion for building occupants? With this question in mind, two researchers set out to address the mismatch between design, construction and delivery of a building to meet the principles of inclusion.

Many architectural professionals are overloaded with guides and regulations. So the idea of another design tool was met with ambivalence, but continuing professional development requirements encouraged participation in two workshops. This is where co-design processes can educate users while finding out what their issues are.

The title of the article is, The Inclusive Design Canvas. A Strategic Design Template for Architectural Design Professionals. The key point? Embed inclusion within the design process from the outset, and incorporate it into design software.

Building industry knowledge and attitude are key

As universal design followers know, building and construction standards do not ensure accessibility, let alone inclusion. Well-informed architectural design practitioners understand the benefits. So what is holding back the others? Lack of knowledge or attitude – or both? Matteo Zallio found that poorly informed stakeholders think that:

  • ‘Inclusive design’ means architectural barriers or physical accessibility.
  • Very few know about cognitive and sensory inclusion and accessibility.
  • ‘Inclusion’ means referring mostly to the Disability Discrimination Act.
  • ‘Inclusive design’ is an extra cost.
  • ‘Inclusive design’ is just a regulatory obligation. 
A desk has highlighter pens in different colours, working papers and a smart phone.

The factors influencing these views were: cultural background, personal knowledge, geographical location and context, lack of understanding of terminology, and lack of focus and details in regulations. Well-informed stakeholders think that “inclusive design”

  • can be beneficial for clients and occupants;
  • guarantees and elevated baseline of access; and
  • is a gold standard for their business and an example for others as well. 
Picture of three young women wearing hard hats and holding pens and looking at a drawing on a table top

Developing the Inclusive Design Canvas

With feedback from stakeholders, Zallio mapped out an “inclusive design canvas”. It’s a matrix of six elements that can help designers think through the issues and solutions. The user journey, capabilities and needs are one dimension, and the other dimension consists of physical, sensory and cognitive aspects. The matrix below shows the elements.

The three elements of the Inclusive Design Canvas for architectural design.

Zallio found there were far fewer well-informed stakeholders than poorly-informed stakeholders. The issue was more pronounced outside major cities. Potentially, in the UK, this can be due to heritage factors, but it is also cultural make-up of these regions.  Having to consider more groups within the broader context of equity has diluted the needs of people with disability. 

Zallio discusses the matrix in, Inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility in the built environment: A study of architectural design practice.

See also Inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility in the built environment: A study of architectural design practice (Zallio and Clarkson, 2021). There is a technical report that supports the development of the Inclusive Design Canvas. It’s titled, A validation study on the challenges that architectural practitioners face when designing inclusively.

Certification for universal design: does it work?

Certification for universal design and accessibility should be tested by different users to be sure it is worthy. An hotel in New York with an isUD certification was the subject of such a assessment. The outcome was that it was not well regarded by wheelchair users. The isUD (innovative solutions for Universal Design) certification was devised by the inclusive design centre at the University at Buffalo.

Buildings must meet a minimum score of 70-75 points to be certified by isUD. The newly built hotel in Western New York was used as a case study to test the robustness of the isUD certification.

A person's hand is opening the door to a hotel room.

Researchers tested the hotel’s features with three groups of people. They recruited healthy adults, older adults and wheelchair users. The participants wore lapel microphones to verbally record their feelings and experiences as they happened. They were given tasks for the hotel lobby, the room, the bathroom and the public bathroom.

At the end of the experience they were given a questionnaire to document their stress levels and perceptions of usability. The healthy group were concerned with aesthetics such as being able to watch their preferred TV channels. Operating self-closing doors was a common complaint from wheelchair users.

The paper details the methods and results and provides insights into user perspectives across the three groups. Although this hotel had been certified as meeting universal design criteria, not all features were easy to use. Perhaps a score greater than 70-75% is required so that finer design details are included.

The title of the article is, Understanding Hotel Design Priorities for Individuals of Different Physical Ability Levels. Note that in the U.S. the term universal design is used interchangeably with accessibility and has a focus on disability.

From the conclusion

Hotel guests’ expectations varied according to their level of activity. Wheelchair users commented on functional features, such as a walk-in shower. Healthy subjects considered the presence of the provided features as a must and were searching for leisure-oriented or luxurious features. Guests’ demands from a public facility are varied based on the (mis)matches between their abilities and the environment’s features.

Individuals with minimal or no universal design requirements gain benefits from the facility when designed to meet the needs of individuals with severe impairments. Designing for individuals with the most probable impairment supports inclusivity and can be cost beneficial.

This study was designed to encourage hotel managers and stakeholders to recognize universal design and accessibility features as an all-encompassing solution.

From the abstract

This study evaluated the effects of hotel features on perceptions of stress and usability with healthy adults, older adults, and wheelchair users.

Participants completed a guided walkthrough of a hotel that included tasks in the room, bathroom, and lobby. The older adults had the lowest level of perceived stress, whereas the wheelchair users had the lowest rating of usability.

The healthy group had generally positive perspectives on the hotel features, while the wheelchair users had predominantly negative comments. Concerns ranged from concerns, such as not having access to preferred television shows (healthy group), to difficulty with accessibility of basic room features such as stepping into the shower area (older adults) and opening the room door (wheelchair users).

Although inclusive design may pose a challenge to hotel designers, all guests should have access to basic features

Engaging with local communities

Co-creation and co-design processes are gaining traction in urban regeneration projects across the globe. A study of three different urban regeneration projects in three countries shows the flexibility and value of this method. Successful implementation of equitable and inclusive public space also depends on a multi-sectorial approach.

The three cities in the study were Dhaka in Bangladesh, Maputo in Mozambique, and Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. The research group consisted of an architectural firm, and academics from three universities in the relevant countries.

Seven challenges emerged: inclusive mobility, housing, climate change, local economy, governance, gender and participatory planning. The one thing the case studies have in common is the value of engaging local communities.

Aerial view of Dhaka city in Bangladesh showing densely packed apartment buildings.

The case studies offer different situations for learning and are explained in detail. The participative process revealed a stark imbalance in the inclusion of girls, women and marginalised groups in planning processes. The researchers repeat the call by others to include a diversity of user groups in co-creation methods.

Rapid urbanisation and inadequate public transport in the Global South has lead to half the people having their mobility restricted. This means they are less likely to access employment, education and recreational facilities.

Public space is often a place for trade and commerce in the Global South. Informal economies sustain livelihoods where there is little demand for labour. While this type of economic activity can revive public space, it can also foster unjust distribution of public space.

The title of the article is, Creating Resilient Public Spaces – a Global Perspective on the Conditions for Integrated Urban Development.

From the abstract

Inclusive and sustainable design is crucial for creating equitable and climate-resilient urban environments. This paper presents a research project that involved case studies in three cities on three continents – Dhaka, Maputo, and Santo Domingo.

A participatory design process was implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021 and 2022 through academic urban living labs in our partner cities. Urban design solutions for regenerating public space were co-created with local communities.

This approach aimed to ensure that the proposals were holistic and responsive to the specific needs and aspirations of the local communities. The case studies encompassed sites reflecting diverse urban contexts. The urban lake of Shahjahanpur Jheel in Dhaka, public spaces surrounding the centre of Maputo, and a central expressway in Santo Domingo.

Researchers identified the needs and aspirations of local populations for these places. Co-creation opportunities and place-making events empowered residents and local entrepreneurs to take an active role in the transformation of their neighbourhoods.

Established participation tools were adapted to each local context and new techniques were developed for specific user groups. Young professionals were included in the design process through cooperation with local universities. Academic partnerships and the cooperation with local city administrations also supported capacity building and
knowledge exchange.

The results of the process included integrated urban strategies, urban designs, architectural solutions, and cost estimates for implementation. We identified seven overarching challenges that need to be addressed. They were, inclusive mobility, housing, climate change adaptation, local economy, governance, and gender-sensitive and participatory planning.

This paper presents how the challenges were identified and addressed through the applied research approach for the design of public spaces in Dhaka, Maputo and Santo Domingo.

Healthy and inclusive neighbourhoods in Florence

Participatory action research was at the centre of a project for the Municipality of Florence in Italy. The focus was on green and public spaces and involved several different stakeholder groups. The outcome was the creation of a “health map” with design ideas to enhance the neighbourhood.

Co-planning activities involved citizens and researchers used different methods and tools at different times.


As recognised in the scientific literature, the topic of healthy cities needs to be addressed at the neighbourhood scale, as health has a place-based dimension. The contribution is based on the Quartieri Sani Hub (Healthy Neighbourhoods Hub) ongoing research, aiming to investigate the issue of health and wellbeing through an integrated approach based on spatial and social knowledge, in order to define strategies and design scenarios for an inclusive and healthy neighborhood.

The paper presents the methodological approach defined within this research project for merging different aspects of the healthy city, leading to the definition of a transdisciplinary and multi-scalar conceptual framework in which the characteristics of the built environment that promote healthy lifestyles are systemised.

Policy and political barriers to inclusion

It’s not a case of difficulty or lack of knowledge about how to make places and spaces inclusive and accessible. It has to be something else. Whatever it is, can a universal design approach make a difference? And what are the policy and political barriers to inclusion? That’s what Lilian Müller wanted to find out.

Müller’s thesis explores the complexity of why a universal design approach gets lost in planning processes. Paradoxically, solutions are not only exclusionary and stigmatising, they also add cost to projects. We have normalised “accessible/disabled” toilets, ramps and parking places dedicated to wheelchair users. These are viewed as normal add-ons for compliance with legislation. This is not a universal design approach, and it’s not inclusive.

Updating heritage buildings for tourists has lead to more inclusive places. But new buildings are not getting the same treatment.

View from high building in Brisbane overlooking building roofs and the Brisbane river and bridges. Jacaranda trees can be seen in the street. It's about people and planet and political barriers.

Five ways to look at it

The thesis explores five different aspects and perspectives. Briefly they are:

One: “Young mobile and highly educated cyclists: How urban planning and policy disables users”. Older people and people with disability are made invisible, but youth, health and mobility are put to the foreground as the norm.

Two: “Planning for human diversity – patterns of universal design”. Where this worked well in projects the focus was on people and function. Universal design goals failed to materialise where projects categorised users and high demands were put on their abilities. Interestingly, universal design seemed easier to implement in existing buildings than new constructions.

Three: “Visions of a city for all – resources, choices and universal design in urban development”. Conflicting visions and goals, and resources, support and tools to implement universal design were critical aspects in the process. The challenge is to maintain an early vision and goals throughout the process.

Four: “Citizens’ experiences of inclusion, exclusion and unequal living conditions in the built environment.” Go-along interviews revealed the essential elements in being able to visit the city centre. And also, what made them welcoming and inclusive.

Five: “Who are we building for? Tracing universal design in urban development”. This study is builds on studies one and two. There are competing and conflicting interests inside the city’s organisation and between society interests and profit interests. There is also a distorted conception of user’s conditions and abilities.

When will the barriers drop?

The thesis covers all the relevant literature on the topic. When it comes to the built environment, good policy intentions fall away and a universal design approach remains elusive. Müller deals with the complexities of this dilemma in a practical way. Her findings mirror those in Australia and elsewhere.

We continue to wait for the paradigm shift from special arrangements to designs for all. A policy for an inclusive society is one thing – politically enforcing it is another.

The title is, Bridging the Gaps: Realising Human Diversity in the Built Environment Through Universal Design.

From the abstract

The ongoing exclusion of persons with disabilities from the built environment does not result from a lack of knowledge on how to remedy existing obstacles nor of how to avoid creating new ones. There must be other reasons.

This thesis explores how to achieve more equal and inclusive environments by using universal design to incorporate human diversity in all stages of planning and construction. The thesis consists of three studies which are the bases of five articles.

The first is the theoretical framework that involves planning and construction processes and forms of governance. The second is the view of the users of the built environment and how they are categorised, and choices and priorities in the planning process. The third is theories of universal design.

The studies included a document study, a multiple case study, semi-structured interviews, workshops and go-along interviews in three cities. The findings show numerous factors that influence the conditions for how human diversity is included or not in urban development processes.

These factors include the norms and categorisations of the users, current urban building trends, and planning practices. Examples show how universal design can be implemented in the entire process – from idea to finished construction. The findings show the need for several changes.

All studies demonstrate the importance of protecting significant societal goals throughout planning and construction processes. This indicates that public actors must take greater responsibility to lead planning processes and follow up on the results.

The municipalities are at the forefront of defending social goals and operationalising conventions that Sweden has undertaken to follow. Being able to access and use the built environment is a fundamental human right.

Inclusive pedestrian mobility

Do footpaths have an economic value to the public? Are pedestrians all the same? These questions are worth asking policy makers when it comes to inclusive pedestrian mobility. There is a tendency to treat pedestrians as one group with some exceptions such as outside schools and aged care facilities. This is not helped by various definitions of inclusive mobility in the literature.

An area that is accessible to and usable by everyone can be described as an inclusive pedestrian area. Because pedestrian space does not have a strict status or economic value, and is a place that quickly adapts to different purposes, special attention is needed to preserve pedestrian areas.

Pedestrians are walking towards the camera. They are on a wide walkway. Some people are looking at their phones. They are dressed for warm weather. There are buildings on each side of the walkway. Inclusive pedestrian mobility.

Noa Hamacher’s Masters thesis delves into this topic academically and practically. She looks at human-oriented spaces, pedestrian-friendly areas, and a definition of pedestrian inclusion. The case studies take a national and local context in Norway and The Netherlands.

Given the diversity of pedestrians, designs should consider a wide range of user needs. Fair processes and procedures for decision-making is therefore required.

People are in a park area with a water fountain. A man is holding two sticks and creating a giant soap bubble. A place for pedestrians.

Pedestrian areas are sometimes used for community activities, which are a good thing. However, these activities, such as markets and other events, should take care not to create barriers to accessing this space.

In terms of evaluation, the study found no useful evaluation tools for inclusive pedestrian spaces. This allows the more powerful voices to claim priority. Consequently, involving marginalised groups in decision-making processes is required.

The title of the Masters thesis is, Inclusive mobility in pedestrian areas: Defining and evaluating inclusive pedestrian areas in Oslo, Norway, and Nijmegen, The Netherlands. Photos of case study examples are included in the document.

From the abstract

Walking is the most basic form of mobility. It is used as a mode of transportation in every journey, whether it involves a vehicle or not. Therefore, everyone depends on walking to meet their transportation needs. However, policymakers often assume all pedestrians have a productive age and have the same level of capability.

Additionally, there are a variety of definitions of inclusive mobility found in literature and policy. Because of this, inclusivity of pedestrian areas cannot be standardized. On one hand, mobility policy should consider the various demands of individuals. On the other, there is a desire for a uniform approach in practice.

Finding a balance between these topics is the main goal of this research. This study sought a deeper understanding of the definition of inclusive pedestrian areas and factors that influence the level of inclusivity.

The questions regarding inclusivity; “of what”, “for whom, “by whom and “how much’’ are studied. Two cases are examined namely Oslo, Norway and Nijmegen, the Netherlands.

The results show that an inclusive pedestrian area is defined as an area accessible to and usable by everyone. Further, it is an area that quickly adapts to different purposes in comparison to space for other travel modes. Therefore, pedestrian space often comes under strain.

Participation varies greatly by type of project and evaluation is poor. A strong national goal and a strategy is needed to raise awareness and provide binding rules and funding.

Planning, diversity, inequity, justice

These four words, planning, diversity, inequity and justice all belong in the same sentence. Being excluded from places and spaces means walking, public transport, work, education, and seeing friends are out of reach. But good design can fix it.

The way we plan and design for human diversity requires serious rethinking if we genuinely want to address inequity and injustices in our suburbs and cities. 

Image from the inclusive communities workshop.

Lisa Stafford is a planner and researcher and she urges the planning fraternity to be change agents. Her short article in Urbanet neatly spells out the reasons why and what needs to change. Stafford is leading a research project with people aged 9 to 92 years to identify the details of the changes we need.

The changes needed

To address the injustices we must adapt and retrofit our suburbs and cities for sustainable inclusive futures. People with disability have a right to access everyday spaces, housing, transport and social infrastructure.

Stafford’s article discusses changing the narrative and confronting ableism and adopting inclusive urban governance. Treating people with disability as equals in planning processes requires a universal design approach. Stafford points out that the New Urban Agenda and SDG 11 are about disability justice. Adopting inclusive urban governance, planning, and leadership are a good start.

Stafford concludes the article with a call to action:

“Planning for equity and inclusion is an essential approach. We simply will not have sustainable suburbs and cities if they are not inclusive and just. The message for our profession is simple – we must do better. Be a change agent by considering your ways of working and what it means to plan better for equity and inclusion.”

The title of the article is, Celebrating Human Diversity – Urban Planning for Disability Equity and Inclusion.

Diversity is more than disability and urban planners also have to consider many other groups including gender, ages, and cultural background. This is the era of intersectionality – we can be more than one identity.

Schandorffs 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 Schandorffs 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 Schandorffs 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 Vimeo 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.

Re-modelling a city park

A landscape study brings together aspects of universal design and accessibility with wellbeing. Using an existing park in a Polish city as a case study, researchers had to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of eliminating some features in favour of others.

A view of the park showing many people using the park on a sunny day.

When the remodelling of the park was complete, the final assessment phase showed increased visitation. However, getting to the park was still problematic due to the poor accessibility from nearby streets. This is a key point and something emphasised in the Everyone Can Play guideline that has the three key elements for a successful play space: Can I get there? Can I play? Can I stay?

The title of the study is, The results of qualitative research on health-affirming urban places on example of new planned central park in Gdynia.

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