Walking and wheeling in the neighbourhood

Being free to move around and get out and about helps build and strengthen connections to place and people. Mobility and participation are closely linked and together they improve our sense of wellbeing and belonging. It’s about having choice and control and being able to easily go walking and wheeling in the neighbourhood.

Absent or poorly maintained footpaths, lack of safe crossings, unsafe road speeds, competing with cars, poorly lit streets, and nowhere to rest, prevent people from getting out and about.

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

An article in The Fifth Estate argues it’s time to stop designing our streets for cars and start to design for the diversity of people. The article is by Lisa Stafford’s and her work on planning and justice. She lists some must-dos for walkable wheelable neighbourhoods:

  • footpaths are essential infrastructure in the same way as stormwater in neighbourhood development
  • confront ableism and plan and design for our diversity
  • embed inclusive design thinking in the system and day-to-day practice
  • integrate planning well: we know universal design and sustainable smart growth approaches work seamlessly together 
  • utilise inclusive urban design codes to promote mobility equity, wellbeing, connectivity, and accessibility
  • active and public transport infrastructure advocacy must include the perspective of all users
  • Queensland Walks and Victoria Walks are good examples of public policy.

As Lisa Stafford says, we have the technical resources, good examples and the skills to do this. It is attitude that is holding us back.

The title of the article is What do truly walkable, wheelable neighbourhoods look like? It is part of The Fifth Estate’s Spinifex collection.

Accessible and inclusive cities

Despite many years of campaigning for disability access across our cities, the results are only piecemeal. But what constitutes an accessible and inclusive city? Australian researchers conducted a global review to find out the enablers and barriers to inclusive design.

“Accessible and inclusive are not common headline city descriptors and even less commonly paired.”

A graphic showing tall buildings and trees set on an architect drawing

One of the issues is that the concept of accessible and inclusive is multifaceted with many terms alluding to the same thing. The terms that matter most and need to be explicit, are accessible and inclusive. However, these terms are made invisible in the literature and guidelines. Terms such as, Healthy, Age-Friendly, Liveable, Inclusive Smart, and Smart Sustainable have implicit links to access and inclusion. And they are usually aspirational statements without tangible strategies outcomes. That means, they can’t be evaluated either.

“Despite its resonant face validity, ‘accessibility’ is a slippery concept even when applied only to the built environment.”

Graphic with orange and red buildings depicting several sizes of home from small house to apartment block.

The researchers include a table of 14 domains of inclusion and access in their paper. Some of these link with the WHO Age Friendly Cities Guide. From these domains they provide a set of key domains that can be used to measure an accessible and inclusive city.

  1. Connectivity (spatial & digital);
  2. Economic participation, employment and education;
  3. Housing;
  4. Community and social infrastructure; and
  5. Processes of engagement and inclusion.

The researchers conclude that the main obstacle is the lack of agreement on access and inclusion factors. Their paper reviewed the global benchmarks of accessible and inclusive cities to provide some exemplars. They also highlighted ways to enhance the experiences of people with disability.

The title of the article is, Global Benchmarking of Accessible and Inclusive Cities.

From the abstract

Globally, many built environments fail to meet the accessibility needs of people with disability. This is despite people with disability agitating for built environment accessibility improvement for many decades. This paper reviews the global literature to determine what constitutes an accessible and inclusive city and to discover global benchmarks of accessible and inclusive cities for people with disability.

We identified five (composite) domains that an accessible and inclusive city would include: 1. Connectivity (spatial & digital); 2. Economic participation, employment and education; 3. Housing; 4. Community and social infrastructure; and 5. Processes of engagement and inclusion.

We also identified accessible and inclusive city exemplars, including Breda, the Netherlands and Gdynia, Poland. From the global review of exemplars and definitions, domains and indicators, areas of practical action were identified that require multi-entity, multisector collaborations with influential partners addressing all prioritised domains.

These actions included: the need to include people with disability in the planning and design of environments and services; work across the linked domains of the built form, services, attitudes, and economic participation; and the need to revise construction, design, planning and architectural education to foreground the needs and requirements of those with disability.

Autism and built environment

City life can be noisy, busy and confusing at the best of times. People with neurodiverse conditions such as autism can find this level of stimulation distressing. The end result is it becomes easier to stay home as much as possible. This is counter to our need to be physically active and to get out and about.

Children with autism spectrum condition can find urban noise and activity distressing. To discover the specific issues, researchers carried out an observational study of children, with their parents, walking from a transport stop to a park. They identified different elements that pose potential issues for the children. From this, they developed potential design solutions.

“It is essential that planners and policymakers change their neurotypically driven mindset of city planning and design.”

Image of Brooke Park, Derry

Aerial view of Brooke Park in Derry, Ireland.

While the noises of transport and street activity can be loud, the park is expected to be a quiet place of retreat. But this is not always the case. Mowers, leaf blowers, and excited children raise the decibel level considerably. So knowing when the park will be quiet is therefore very helpful.

Two routes were the subject of the observational study. Both began at a public bus station and ended at an open green space in the city. The aim was to identify aspects that might inhibit access to the park. The routes included common challenges; footpaths, roads and shopping areas. Both routes were approximately 1 mile (1.6km) in length and covered commonplace streetscapes.

Sensory challenges

Not all autistic people have problems with sensory overload and those that do might not react to all senses. Parents need to be aware of the unexpected. Loud noises in the form of drilling machines, heavy trucks and police sirens, and flashing lights, for example. On the day the observations were made, it was sunny and bright – not optimal for those who are light sensitive. One the other hand there are those who find lack of light affects their visual acuity.

Apart from sensory issues, there were several others. Street clutter in the form of bins and sandwich boards on narrow footpaths. Traffic lights were a problem because there was no knowing when the lights would change. The solution is a countdown timer and clearer instructions on when it is safe to cross. Wayfinding guidance is also important because clear instructions are essential for feeling safe.

An uninterrupted, smooth and safe journey is what everyone wants. For autistic people it is essential for feeling safe and comfortable along their journey. The researchers provide detailed design interventions such as transition zones, road safety advice, and quiet spaces.

As with many things, design features essential for this group have benefits for everyone. For example, knowing when the park was going to have the noise of mowers and leaf blowers makes it more pleasant for everyone. And everyone appreciates a quiet space from time to time.

The title of the article is, Autism spectrum condition and the built environment. In the conclusions, the researchers say,

“The issue of accessibility for people with disabilities and autism spectrum condition (ASC) should become common knowledge to those working in the built environment sector. To do so, a design guide for creating inclusive cities and communities for people with disabilities, making specific reference to people with ASC, needs consideration at a strategic level, then implemented at a city and town level. Future regeneration projects should include these interventions and design principles in the planning stages and through to implementation.”

Participatory architecture

The architecture discipline is standing on a borderline that separates their design knowledge and user requirements. The trend is away from the all-knowing architect as a designer to sharing that knowledge with the users of the design. So, additional skills are required to those of design, that is, participatory engagement with users. A special issue journal takes up the topic of participatory architecture.

Participation can take place in almost any location. Unexpected places sometimes encourage the unpredictable – a good place for new ideas.

Men are gathered around an outdoor fire in natural surroundings. They are participating in a discussion.

The special issue has cases from urban planning, hospital management, cultural heritage, restrooms, age care and social housing. The articles are focused on the way participation is practiced and researched in architecture. The editors extracted four lessons from these papers.

First, participation can take place in unusual and unexpected places, but it welcomes the unpredictable. Second, participatory research is often used where disadvantaged or vulnerable populations are involved. This can lead to useful experimentation for improving environments.

Third, the practice and research enables new knowledge to emerge in the iterative processes transferrable to future projects. Multidisciplinary teams generate verbal and non-verbal knowledge in the process.

Fourth, participation builds communities and networks, and reveals stories and experiences beyond the classroom and text books. There is satisfaction to gain through sharing and co-designing.

So the border between the expert and the non-expert becomes blurred in the participatory process of co-design and co-creation.

The title of the editorial to the special issue is, Participation: A Disciplinary Border for Architectural Research and Practice. The article belongs to the Special Issue Contemporary Issues in Participatory Architecture.

Accessible and inclusive cities: case study

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

Talking about universal design is all very well, but it takes collective action to make it happen. Collective action for accessible and inclusive cities requires everyone to get on board and work together. And “everyone” means governments at all levels, urban planners and designers, construction companies, contractors and tradespeople. Everyone also means citizens and this is where co-design methods come in. 

Two case studies form the basis of a research paper on two regional centres in Australia. One is in Geelong in Victoria and the other in Bunbury, Western Australia. The authors describe the collaborative and action oriented process in both studies. 

A note of caution. Many local governments have little power over developments that not funded by them limiting what they can achieve. Private and commercial developers can legally challenge any requirements beyond the building codes. 

Recommendations for both centres emerged from the research process. The key recommendation is to use a co-design and co-research process. The authors take a universal design to the whole process and recommendations. They also call for enhanced standards including mandating co-design. 

The title of the paper is, Accessible and Inclusive Cities: Exposing Design and Leadership Challenges for Bunbury and Geelong. It is open access. 

Two of the authors, Adam Johnson and Hing-Wah Chau, were speakers at the 4th Australian Universal Design Conference. Papers were published by Griffith University.  

From the abstract

This article compares research identifying the systemic barriers to disability access and inclusion in two regional Australian cities. We discuss some of the leadership and design challenges that government and industry need to address to embed universal design principles within urban planning, development.

In Geelong, Victoria, the disability community sought a more holistic and consultative approach to addressing access and inclusion. Systems‐thinking was used to generate recommendations for action around improving universal design regulations and  community attitudes to disability. This included access to information, accessible housing, partnerships, and employment of people with disability.

In Bunbury, Western Australia, a similar project analysed systemic factors affecting universal design at a local government level. Recommendations for implementing universal design included staff training, policies and procedures, best practice benchmarks, technical support and engagement in co‐design.

We describe the process followed in both studies to identify how, through collaborative and action‐oriented research methods, the studies identified key technical, cultural, political, and structural changes required to achieve equitable access and inclusion in the urban landscape.

Vulnerable citizens in floods and fires

Climate change is bringing increasingly dangerous and catastrophic weather events. Floods and fires are a regular occurrence in Australia, but not with the frequency and intensity that we are seeing now. While there are standards for building evacuations and fire risk management, these were developed without thought for vulnerable citizens. And when people need to evacuate to a communal place of safety, there is no guarantee it will be accessible.

Residents of the Northern Rivers area of New South Wales are not new to flood events. But the floods are getting worse as we saw this year. A major flood event occurred previously in 2017 and four researchers decided to explore the experiences of people with disability.

We found people with disability and carers are more likely than others to be affected and displaced. Their needs are more immediate and urgent than most, and their mental health is more likely to be compromised.

Road Closed signs and a barrier of a road that reaches down to a river in flood.

Their findings show the profound impact and systematic neglect experienced by people with disability and their carers. A longer term recovery period is required for people with disability with tailored supports. Consequently, people with disability should be included in flood preparations and recovery efforts.

The title of the article is, Exposure to risk and experiences of river flooding for people with disability and carers in rural Australia: a cross sectional survey. It’s not a very accessible document as the format is in two columns.

Fire safety

The NDIS aims to support people to live independently in a home designed around their disability. This usually means a step free entry and modified bathroom designs. However, little, if any, thought is given to the design of fire safety and safe evacuation in an emergency. Some NDIS participants will need extra support to prepare for and react in an emergency.

“Fire safety systems must be considered as a total package of risk management, equipment, maintenance, training and fire and evacuation drills. …Where disabled or immobile persons are concerned, the importance of the total package cannot be underestimated”

house fire photo taken at night time.

Hank Van Ravenstein outlines the role of the NDIS in his paper, Fire Safety and the National Disability Insurance Scheme. The first part relates the history of the NDIS followed by technical considerations for safety. He argues that the National Construction Code regulations don’t fully address or reflect the needs and risk behaviours of NDIS participants.

If we are to take a universal design approach, if the fire safety regulations aren’t sufficient for people with disability, are they sufficient for everyone?

Bushfire safety

As cities grow and become more compact, some citizens feel the need to “go bush”. This usually means finding a forest haven amongst the trees away from urban living. Then there are those who have always lived in the bush and wouldn’t live anywhere else. But bush living is risky and can be costly in terms of lives and property. It is particularly risky for people with disability and consequently, a different risk assessment process is needed.

Despite fire and rescue authorities encouraging people to prepare for bushfires (and floods), many leave it too late. Some are unable to understand the instructions, or unable to carry them out.

A nighttime view of a major bushfire. The bright orange and red glow of the fire is reaching into the tops of the trees.

A paper by Bennett and Van Ravenstein spells out all the technicalities of fire prevention and control. They argue for a risk assessment approach to existing and proposed buildings for vulnerable persons. The aim of their method is to provide a consistent basis for assessment.

The title of their paper is Fire Safety Management of Vulnerable Persons in Bushfire Prone areas.

There is an related paper on vertical evacuation of vulnerable persons in buildings.

Planning for gender inclusion

The notion that there are only two genders, female and male, has become a topic of discussion and research. So, there is a growing interest in planning and designing for people who identify outside this binary. But much of the research literature is based on the experiences of women. There is little research on people who identify as nonbinary, trans, intersex or genderqueer. However, in the meantime, some of the research on women’s experiences can act as a proxy for people who identify as nonbinary. The key issue is that gender inclusion is left out of planning conversations.

Masters student Carolyn Chu investigated the constraints women and nonbinary people face when using public space. These constraints have a profound effect on their health, daily living and safety. Chu wanted to understand gender differences in park usage, planning and design in Los Angeles parks.

Front cover of Planning for Gender Inclusion.

Chu says that planners should thing critically about gender by leveraging a feminist planning perspective. Participatory methods that favour marginalised voices in planning discussions are essential. And to explore creative design options for diverse populations across gender, ages, ability and housing status.

Key findings

• Women have diverse needs and opinions related to park amenities, services, and preferences.
• Women and nonbinary people are not the majority users of Lafayette Park. The most common uses for women park users were leisurely walking and supervising children. Very few women engaged in exercise or vigorous physical activity (other than walking) while using the park.
• In planning processes, as with other municipal processes, the loudest voices in a community often have disproportionately more power in decision making. These loud voices have historically been, and continue to be, the voices of white, middle-class, and cisgender people.
• Park planners need to balance competing needs for space, especially in dense city neighborhoods such as Koreatown and Westlake where Lafayette Park is located
• Parks are not just a place for leisure, but also settings for economic activity and shelter
• Women’s past experiences of harassment in public places have created anxiety and fear for their safety in parks. Women are careful about how they dress while using parks to avert unwanted attention on their bodies.
• Parks provision and staffing are chronically underfunded and embedded in broader political dynamics.

“The nonprofit planner urged that in order to build gender-inclusive spaces, women must be included in every step of the planning phase, from inception to funding, leading, outreach, implementation, and evaluation. They emphasized that gender inclusive parks are created at the time of park inception, early in the process, and cannot be “tacked on” after foundational decisions have been made.”

Title of the study is, Gender Inclusion: Gender-Inclusive Planning and Design Recommendations for Los Angeles Parks. The research is largely based around women’s experiences, but issues such as safety are shared by other marginalised groups. Community engagement is a core strategy for all aspects of planning and design. And that means more than holding the traditional town hall meeting.

Planning and Policy Recommendations

1. Think critically about gender by leveraging a feminist planning perspective that recognizes that people of all genders have multiple, intersecting, and dynamic identities that hold meaning and power.
2. Use participatory methods that favor marginalized voices, open planning discussions to a wider range of opinions, and make time for collective decision-making.
3. Build a network of diverse parks that can accommodate a range of different desires and partner with nonprofits to explore alternative stewardship and ownership practices.
4. Explore creative design and programming options that are designed with all abilities in mind and maximize limited space in inner cities.
5. Invest and fund our parks equitably with a particular focus on providing resources for communities that are park poor due to historically discriminatory planning practices.
6. Pursue further research on park users across the spectrum of gender, age, ability, and housing status.


Urban planning theory and practice have created gendered environments that mainly privilege the needs of cisgender men. Women, nonbinary, and genderqueer people face various constraints on their use of public space which has profound effects on their health, daily living, and safety. This research study seeks to understand gender disparities in park usage, planning, and design in Los Angeles parks and offers recommendations to mitigate those disparities through improvements to planning processes.

Implementing universal design in public places

What and where are the problems when it comes to implementing universal design in public places? Three Swedish researchers decided to find out. The first step is to consider all the actors that have a role in creating public places and spaces. They all make choices based on particular strategies. Then there are inherent conditions: topography, the space itself, time pressures, cost, and materials. Each one of these can impact how different people might use and design the environment.

How buildings, walkways and public places are designed is based on choices and strategies, affected by laws and policies, but also by the practitioners’ knowledge and experiences.

A fish market in Sweden.   Implementing universal design.

Knowledge of universal design is still limited among practitioners and even then, it is not understood in the same way. Perceptions that universal design is about access compliance further complicates matters. So how to change the mindset of practitioners? This is where the concept of diversity comes in. Old thought patterns of deviating from the norm have to be discarded as practitioners think of population diversity.

Aim of the study

The aim of the study was to identify the choices practitioners made during the urban development process. And then to find out what they need to better support the implementation of universal design. They used qualitative methods to find out and a quantitative analysis of the findings. The findings are presented in three sections:

  1. Critical choices and aspects – informal decisions also impact final result.
  2. Conflicting visions, goals and interests between departments and public and private actors.
  3. Critical recourses – supports and tools stakeholders need
aerial view of three people at a desk looking at a set of construction drawings

The paper concludes with 7 recommendations based on their findings.

The title of the paper is, Visions of a City for All. Resources, Choices and Factors Supporting and Impeding Universal Design in the Urban Development Process. It is a well written and clear paper. It has important information for all the stakeholders in urban design processes.

From the abstract

Despite laws, policies and visions to create cities and societies for all, barriers still exclude persons with disabilities from using buildings and public places. Our study aimed to identify choices made during the urban development process that include or exclude users in the built environment; how and when these choices arise during the process; and what is needed to implement universal design (UD) as a strategy and tool to secure all users equal opportunities in the built environment.

The study involved employees and private actors in city development processes. Four workshops were followed by qualitative interviews with key players. The analysis was based on qualitative data from workshops and interviews.

Aspects impeding and supporting UD and conflicting visions and goals were identified in all phases, as well as the need for tools to implement UD. The findings show that accessibility for all users is dealt with (too) late in the process, often giving rise to special solutions.

The findings also show how UD appears more clearly in remodelling projects than in new constructions. A strong vision from the start to build for all users clearly supports UD throughout the process. Other factors such as pre-studies that include human diversity, allocation of resources and experts’ early opinions also prove to be clear drivers for UD.

Overall, the findings reveal a demand for solutions that can maintain early visions and goals throughout the processes. We conclude by providing seven recommendations for addressing these challenges.

Smart Cities Playbooks

This post has four different smart cities playbooks. They are by UNHabitat, the Smart Cities Council, 3Gict’s Smart Cities for All, and the fourth is by two urban planners.

UNHabitat – People-Centered Smart Cities Playbooks webpage introduces a series of playbooks as basic components of their smart cities program. The aim of the playbooks is to empower local government to take a co-design approach to digital transformations. This is so that cities can work on sustainability, inclusivity and human rights for everyone. The playbooks are titled:

A city skyline at night against a backdrop of a computer circuitry board.
  • Centering People in Smart Cities
  • Assessing the Digital Divide
  • Addressing the Digital Divide
  • Shaping Co-creation and Collaboration
  • Infrastructure and Security
  • Building Capacity

Connected Games Playbook

The Smart Cities Council is on the front foot preparing their thinking for the Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games. They are focused on the digital aspects of the Games and have devised two smart cities playbooks.

Smart Cities Playbook No 1 sets the digital scene for the Games covering transport, facilities, housing and urban development.

Smart Cities Playbook No 2 provides guidance on the development of a South East Queensland Regional Data Strategy. Data is one the most valuable assets within the region but is undervalued and under utilised. The Strategy should support good governance and lead the implementation.

Five Pillars of Inclusive Smart Cities

A smart city uses communication technology to enhance liveability, workability, and sustainability. While the tech gets smarter it’s not getting more accessible. The most significant barriers to inclusion are lack of leadership, policy, and awareness, and limited solutions. James Thurston lists the five pillars in the Smart Cities for All Toolkit as:

  1. Strategic Intent: inclusion strategy and leadership
  2. Culture: citizen engagement and transparency
  3. Governance & Process: procurement and partnerships
  4. Technology: Global standards and solution development
  5. Data: Data divide and solutions
cover of Smart Cities Toolkit.

The Smart Cities for All Toolkit empowers city leaders and urban planners to make their programs truly “smart” by being inclusive and accessible by design.

Toni Townes-Whitley, Vice President, Microsoft.

You can see a 13 minute video of one of James’ presentations that covers similar ground. 

Busting myths about smart cities

Chelsea Collier and Dustin Haisler’s Smart Cities Playbook begins with myth-busting. The myths include: it’s all about technology; it’s only for big cities, it costs a lot; and only governments can do it.

The second part of their playbook focuses on best practices covering infrastructure, people and intelligence. The third part introduces seven steps to a smart-er community with practical worksheets for guidance.

Smart cities and intercultural inclusion

For an extension of smart city thinking, see a paper from Europe which addresses issues of migration and cultural inclusion. The title, is, Design-Enabled Innovation in Smart City
Context. Fostering Social Inclusion Through Intercultural Interaction

WHO age friendly cities: does it work?

The World Health Organization’s guide to age-friendly cities and active ageing set the trend for policy in 2002. The publication, Global Age-Friendly Cities: A Guide, supports the age-friendly framework. This inspired the development of the Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities. So how successful has this age-friendly movement been?

Front cover of the WHO guide for age friendly cities.

The longevity revolution is happening now. So it is a good time to review the success or otherwise of the age-friendly movement and the WHO framework for age-friendly cities.

The WHO Guide was initially designed to be a bottom-up participatory process. The flexibility of the process enabled individual cities and communities to work on local issues. However, it hasn’t quite worked that way. As with all participative processes, it comes down to whose voices are being heard at the discussion table. And it depends on whether the city or community is urban or rural and on the resources available.

Edgar Liu has checked out Australian policies across the three tiers of government. He wanted to find out if the WHO guide and framework inspired policy making. And if it did, to what extent. In a nutshell, these policies did not fully reflect socioeconomic and cultural diversity. Also, the policy focus remains on care and support services, which conflicts with the recommendations for connecting with multiple policy areas.

The title of the paper is, The World Health Organization’s impact on age-friendly policymaking: A case study on Australia.

WHO age friendly logo of 8 petals showing the 8 domains of life.
The WHO Age-Friendly Cities Framework


This paper reflects on whether and how the World Health Organization (WHO) inspires age-friendly policymaking across different levels of government. This is done via a case study in which we analyse the policies of Australia’s three-tiered federated government system against the WHO’s eight core age-friendly cities domains.

Findings suggest that membership of the Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities did not appear to overtly inspire the development of age-friendly policies across Australian governments.

Content analysis shows there is an overwhelming policy focus on care and support services, with little attention to cultural diversity. This reflects an outdated portrayal of debilitation in later life and a lack of recognition of how diverse circumstances impact the ageing process and corresponding support needs.

Our findings also reveal the challenges of a three-tiered federated system, where varying financial and authoritative capacities have influenced how different governments acknowledge and respond to population ageing.

Notably, local governments—the main level of implementation targeted by the WHO—are invariably constrained in developing their own age-friendly policies and may opt to adopt those of higher levels of government instead. These challenges will likely impact other resource-limited governments in responding to the needs of their emerging ageing populations.

You can read more in a related post Manchester and Brussels: A place to grow old.

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