Retire the retirement village

The Longevity by Design banner in pink and purple.Age-friendly communities where people of all ages live, work and play could be the way of the future. That means the desirability of age-segregated living could be on the way out. Many people will live 30 years after the age of 65 years. By 2030 all baby boomers will have turned 65 and Gen X will be joining the older cohort.  It’s time to retire the retirement village concept according to an article in The Conversation. This is based on feedback from older people in a Longevity By Design Challenge. This means we have to re-think the notion of retirement and approaches to urban design.

The Design Challenge asked:

How do we best leverage the extra 30 years of life and unleash the social and economic potential of people 65+ to contribute to Australia’s prosperity?

Sixteen cross-disciplinary creative teams considered longevity in the context of buildings and neighbourhoods. Together the participants concluded that design for older people is inclusive design. No matter how old you are you still want the same things for a good life. That means autonomy and choice, purpose, good health and financial security.

The title of the article is, Retire the retirement village – the wall and what’s behind it is so 2020, and explains how the challenge was run and some of the findings. Key points emerging from the challenge were inclusive infrastructure, people of all ages together, and a mobility “ecosystem” made up of different types of transport options. The underpinning principles turned out to be age-friendly communities, something the World Health Organization has promoted for more than ten years.

Boomers are over them

A scene from the charrette where people are sitting round a table discussing their project.

The ABC also reported on the Design Challenge and how to prepare and adapt Australian cities to capitalise on our longevity bonus. It seems walled and gated age-segregated enclaves might have had their day. Instead, the future might hold more age-inclusive neighbourhoods where older people continue to contribute into late age. So, no more need for doom and gloom about population ageing.

As an urban design challenge the design of homes suited for all ages was not included. The ABC article is titled, Retirement villages have had their day: Baby boomers are rethinking retirement

Banner for the Longevity by Design challenge in 2021.A second Longevity by Design session was held in 2021 with the theme, Feels Like Home. This one was focused on aged care and the key points are in the video below. 

Urban planning for population longevity

A row of two storey houses painted in different pastel colours.Urban designers are potential champions for improvements for population ageing. That is a key theme in an article that proposes ways for helping older people stay put in their home, and if not, in their community. The article discusses current innovations to make neighbourhoods and homes more supportive both physically and socially. These include: enriching neighbourhoods, providing collective services, building all-age neighbourhoods, creating purpose-built supportive housing.

The title of the article is, “Improving housing and neighborhoods for the vulnerable: older people, small households, urban design, and planning”. Open access available  from SpringerLink,  or  via ResearchGate.

From the abstract

Currently preferences and policies aim to help older people to stay in their existing homes. However, the majority of homes in the U.S. and many other countries are not designed to support advanced old age. Also, they are not located to easily provide support and services.

The paper examines the existing range of innovations to make neighbourhoods and homes more supportive, physically, socially, and in terms of services. These include: enriching neighbourhoods, providing collective services, building all-age neighbourhoods, creating purpose-built supportive housing, developing small scale intergenerational models, and engaging mobility, delivery, and communications innovations.


Designing with autism in mind

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

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

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

Autism and the social model of disability

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

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

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

Autism isn’t a disorder

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

Voices of autism in a book

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

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

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


A framework to understand universal design

Picture of three young women wearing hard hats and holding pens and looking at a drawing on a table topIf there was an assessment tool for access and inclusion, would this encourage designers to think about population diversity in their designs?  If the answer is ‘yes’ then this will be a step forward. But would such a tool become yet another checklist for designers? But perhaps a simple framework to understand universal design would be useful for design and evaluation.

Erica Isa Mosca and Stefano Capolongo embarked on a research study to find such a framework. Their first paper was published in 2018. It is titled, Towards a Universal Design Evaluation for Assessing the Performance of the Built Environment. They concluded that the involvement of users as well as methods such as checklists were needed for the next step.

The next step was a literature review. The researchers’ quest was to find ways to provide design information to architects so that they could go beyond access standards. The literature review is titled, Inspiring architects in the application of Design-for-All: Knowledge transfer methods and tools

The researchers found four criteria which were critical for translating user needs into design strategies. The diagram below shows the four criteria. Using these criteria, the researchers developed an evaluation framework. 

Graphic of four criteria based on How, What, Why, Where.

The final stage of the research project produced a useful framework for designers. This framework is about performance and assessing the built environment beyond access codes. The framework aligns with the current universal design thinking by including the concepts of co-design. The framework is shown in the diagram below. 

A diagram that shows the three key areas and how they overlap to create universal design.There is more on this framework in another CUDA post titled, Universal design evaluation framework. 

Universal design evaluation framework


What exactly is a “Smart City”?

Smart city graphic showing silhouetted city outline showing links to homes, factories, offices, transport and other city services.What is a smart city and is it different from other cities? Smart cities use digital technology and data to improve decision-making and quality of life. The aim is to gain a better understanding of current conditions and forecast future changes. The data are also used to improve city functions and create solutions. But how does it work?

In an article titled, Smart City Design Principles, more is explained. For a city, town or community to become smart it needs connected technology. Smartphones, sensors and Internet of Things devices connect to the Internet and each other and share the data they collect with city staff. Managers use various applications to take this data and turn it into information they can use. This can have a huge impact on urban development and planning.

There are four key elements:

    1. Quality encompasses liveability, environment, and quality of life (which should include accessibility and inclusion).
    2. Residential Construction focuses on addressing the needs of current generations without negatively impacting future generations.
    3. Capacity is about natural and human resources – population distribution, water, etc.
    4. History and Environment is about achieving cohesive regional development, traditional practices and archaeological zones. 

Anyone interested in understanding and applying the elements of the smart cities framework will find the article useful. Case studies, illustrations and charts are included.

The Smart Cities Council is in the process of developing a framework based on the Sustainable Development Goals. They have published their work so far with an overview of concepts. 

James Thurston explains the 5 Pillars of Inclusive Smart Cities and the Smart Cities for All Toolkit. 


smart city should embrace the concept of sustainable growth, as it is an urgent need, and we cannot hesitate in coping with precious natural resources and plunge into crisis.

To make the city run as a smart city, several things should be included in the situation. In the long term, smart city visions that are inclusive, pluralistic, and citizen-centric, focused on developing services and resolving local challenges, would be the most effective and cost-efficient.

They are most likely to avoid potential issues by strengthening both physical facilities and amenities, as well as the city’s sense of culture.

Building design: knowledge and attitude are key

Three men in hard hats stand on a building site looking at architectural design plans.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’s research in the UK throws some light on this issue. He 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. 

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. 

Factors influencing this group were: being exposed to contextual factors in their life, perception of the cost-benefit value, foreseeing a positive impact for the community, and awareness of contemporary social facts and events.

Inclusive Design Canvas

With feedback from stakeholders, Zallio mapped out these factors on an “inclusive design canvas”. It’s basically 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 is shown below and can be downloaded separately.

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

The elements of the matrix are discussed in detail in Zallio’s article, Inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility in the built environment: A study of architectural design practice.

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 is currently working on a post-occupancy evaluation tool for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access (IDEA). The aim is to learn from current practice to improve design practice in the future. 


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. 


Public transport design and mental health

A busy station showing the escalator with lots of travellers.The design of the public environment and transport systems often focus on physical access. Features such as seating areas and information systems also impact people with mental health conditions. This was one of the findings from a research paper from Norway. The paper also called out for universal design thinkers to go beyond physical impairments.

The purpose of the research was to identify barriers in public transport for people with mental health conditions. That’s because other research shows that they travel less often than the rest of the population. Lack of access to transport can lead to social isolation which, of course, has a negative impact on all aspects of health. 

The main barriers for people with mental health conditions included crowded spaces, lack of information, waiting times, and lack of staff understanding. The train was preferable to other means of public transport, but the car was essential for the wellbeing of many participants in the study.

The title of the paper is, Universal Design of Public Transport Systems for People with Mental Health Impairments.  Note, that the use of the word “impairment” is likely to be a quirk of translation to English. The paper was published in the Proceedings from the 4th Conference on Architecture Research Care & Health. It has papers on the public domain, housing, and strategies for the architectural design process. 

From the abstract

Objective – We examined the barriers people with mental impairments have in relation to travel, what can be done to make it easier for them to travel, and if today’s understanding of universal design includes people with mental impairments.

Background – People with mental health impairments travel less often than the rest of the population. The field of universal design has done a considerable amount with regards to public transit for people with physical impairments, but more knowledge is needed about how people with mental impairments experience public transport.

Research question – What barriers do people with mental health impairments meet along the transport chain? What practical solutions can be used to get more people with mental health impairments to use public transport? 

Methods – Nine semi-structured qualitative interviews were carried out with people with different types of mental impairments. Informants included both genders and a range of age groups and came from both urban and rural areas of Norway.

Results – Today’s understanding of universal design largely includes people with physical rather than mental health impairments. The main barriers
identified for people with mental impairments included crowded spaces, lack of information, waiting time, economic barriers and lack of understanding from staff. 

Conclusion – We found several physical design measures including sitting area design, transport mode design and design of information systems. Other measures included economic support, training of staff and higher frequency of departure. We should therefore broaden our understanding of universal design, and not look exclusively at physical design.

Health-promoting urban design

Big trees under a blue sky in Skansen, Sweden. Wooden tables and benches in the foreground.
Skansen, Stockholm, Sweden

The links between urban design and physical and mental health are well established. So how do you take an evidence-based approach to health-promoting urban design and green spaces? Swedish landscape architects wanted to know how to translate existing evidence into design and looked to researchers to help. 

Researchers and landscape architects collaborated on a project using participatory action research methods. Researchers used existing evaluation tools and two case studies were carried out to test the processes. 

One case study used an existing park that was due for renewal. Citizens, politicians and planners were involved in collaborative activities. Design proposals were evaluated based on the feedback from the local stakeholders. This is how they discovered the most important design aspects to consider in the second part of the study.

Aspects such as safety, vegetation, water flow, and traffic management were considered in the design. Residents with homes and gardens next to the park were concerned that this would attract visitors from other areas. New users were apparently not welcome to “their” space.

The article explains the collaborative processes that involved the researchers, the landscape architects and other stakeholders. The Quality Evaluation Tool was used as the framework for the study. Some landscape architects found it took time to learn how to use the tool. Others found it wasn’t easy to use it either – they needed something simpler.

However, the tool was useful in knowing how to apply evidence and assist the design process itself. Overall, landscape architects said they had a better understanding of how their designs could promote health and wellbeing. 

The title of the article is, Health-promoting urban planning: A case study of an evidence-based design process.  There are reflections on participatory action research as part of the concluding comments.

From the Abstract

Planning and building health-promoting, sustainable, and resilient urban environments is a complex challenge. We exercise less, obesity is a growing health problem, and loneliness and lack of human relations are also risk factors for disease and premature death.

Evidence shows that access to nature and urban greenery has positive effects on human health and well-being. Hence, landscape design could contribute to meeting the goals for public health and well-being. 

This study explores the application of an evidence-based approach in urban planning for design of health-promoting urban green spaces. A two-step study using participatory action research as the overarching method enabled us to take part in and observe a collaborative practitioner-research process in a municipal planning and design context. 

The results show that evidence-based design principles are useful for guiding design interventions for health-promoting environmental qualities. Landscape architects found that the evidence-based process inspired design solutions and gave a higher sense of meaning to their work. 

The study also identifies a need to connect health promoting environmental qualities to urban planning guidelines for access to green space. It also identified preconditions in earlier planning phases that enable or limit landscape architects’ ability to develop some of the health-promoting environmental qualities.

To surmount the time-consuming threshold of learning how to use new tools and methods, landscape architects ask for more concrete and easily applied guidelines or checklists to aid design decisions. 

Car-free zones: good for everyone?

five lane city highway full of cars.. We need car free zones.Discussion about the benefit of electric versus fossil fuel vehicles will go on for some time. Regardless of the propulsion method, roads take up a lot of our land and environment. Case studies of road closures in favour of pedestrians, are appearing regularly in the literature. The aim of these car-free zones is to give more space to people to move around by walking and cycling. But not everyone can ride a bike or use public transport and this group is probably bigger than we think. 

Climate activists are keen to reduce the number of cars on our roads whether electric or not. An article on the World Economic Forum website discusses the issues with just one sentence about people with disability. This is going to be a major issue if climate activists forget diversity and disability. 

There are more people with mobility issues than most people think. Some are not in the disability statistics because they fall under long term health conditions. Then there are non-physical reasons for using cars. 

Personal vehicles are treated as personal safety devices by people who are physically frail of have a psycho-social condition. That also means they don’t like taxis or car share. People who become blind and have not learned the ways of public transport will use taxis and ride share to drop them exactly where they need to go. Public transport still has gender issues too. 

Cars are still mobility devices

With uneven or absent footpaths, older people begin to feel unsafe and then the car becomes a mobility device. When they cannot drive, they prefer a family member to drive them to the shops and medical appointments. That’s partly because they haven’t used public transport in the past and/or don’t feel safe. 

And cycling with the week’s shopping after picking up a child from school or child care is not an option for many parents.

The title of the article is, Are cars an urban design flaw? Cities advance car-free zones. The article presents case studies across Europe in the quest to reduce road space and increase living space. And car-free doesn’t mean pedestrian only – it means cyclists can mingle with pedestrians. For people with hearing or sight impairments, or people unsteady on their feet, this is not helpful. 

The city of Oslo is increasing their car free zones, but are making sure people who need to use a car are catered for. 

Universal design evaluation framework

A diagram that shows the three key areas and how they overlap to create universal design.
Figure 2 from the article

Finding ways to help people understand universal design is not easy. Many have tried by creating frameworks, policies, and guidelines. Many have stayed with the 7 principles of universal design, now thirty years old. Some have used these principles as a checklist for implementation or evaluation. Others have attempted their own definitions and explanations. So it’s good to see a a useful and thoughtful evaluation framework for understanding and implementing universal design in the built environment.

Mosca and Capologo have developed a universal design framework for the built environment that is up to date with current thinking. It encapsulates physical, sensory and social qualities of the environment. The background research for the framework included stakeholder input. This takes it beyond access compliance and evaluates aspects such as user convenience and social inclusion. 

Three key elements or universal design categories:

    1. Physical-Spatial Quality: the capability of the environment to foster easy, comfortable, functional, and safe use of space and objects. This means being able to physically interact with a system;
    2. Sensory-Cognitive Quality: the capability of the environment to foster orientation, comprehension of the service, and comfort of users. This refers to the features that impact peoples’ senses and cognition;
    3. Social Quality: the ability of the environment to enhance well-being and inclusion. It considers emotional stimuli and social integration among users.

Diagram showing stakeholder input.The framework is about performance and assessing the quality of the built environment beyond access. Mosca and Capologo used 21 indicators and 8 main criteria in their work. 

The title of the article is, Universal Design-Based Framework to Assess Usability and Inclusion of Buildings. It is pleasing to see a framework that includes a human centred design and co-design approach. 


Universal Design (UD) offers different sets of principles that can be used as reference in design practice to meet the needs of the vast majority of a population. However, there is a lack of an accountable approach to measure and analyze the built environment through UD performance. This study aims to develop an evaluation framework to assess UD in public buildings to determine, in addition to accessibility requirements, the usability and inclusion of projects for different users.

Multicriteria Decision Analysis (MCDA) was adopted as research methodology to systematically and scientifically develop the framework, which was structured based on knowledge derived from: an in-depth literature review on UD evaluation and workshops with stakeholders and experts. The selection and comparison of a pool of criteria is described including the cognitive mapping technique for translating information gathered by workshops.

A hierarchical framework was created, consisting of three main categories of UD (i.e. physical-spatial quality, sensorial-cognitive quality, and social quality), eight criteria (i.e. usability, functionality, safety/security, wayfinding, understanding, environmental factors, well-being, and social inclusion), and 21 indicators.

The proposed framework can be considered as an innovative approach in the field of accessible design evaluation since it explores the relation among a multiplicity of aspects, including human performance and social factors, to evaluate the quality of UD buildings

Editor’s note: I’ve seen a lot of attempts at frameworks and this is one of the best so far. Yes, universal design is evolving.