Inclusive urban environments: but when?

An urban street scene showing tall buildings, some traffic and people walking on a pedestrian crossing.The design of the public built environment has long been problematic for a diverse range of people with disability. And while attempts are made with new or upgraded precincts, barriers are still created. While this is often unintentional, once the concrete is down, it is difficult and/or costly to remedy. And so the barriers remain and inclusive urban environments remain a dream for the future.

A team of researchers from the UK, USA, and Pakistan carried out a qualitative research project with people with disability. The results are not new but confirm existing research and the experience of users. One area not often mentioned in previous research is the role of legislation and accountability.

The research paper discusses the state of play and the methods they used. The text contains quotes from participants which personalises the information. The research was carried out in two urban areas in the UK.

Footpaths, seating and toilets

Top of the list of physical barriers was footpaths and the opportunity to rest on a seat. Road crossings was the top hazard for most participants even when signalised. Unexpected maintenance work was also considered dangerous for wheelchair users and people who are blind.

Despite having a legislative framework and access standards, local authorities seem unable to provide accessible environments. Some issues such as footpaths linking with road crossings mean that two authorities are responsible.

Transport barriers included physical access to public transport, lack of information, including cost, and bus driver attitudes. Access to public toilets was also raised. The paper has more detail on the attitudinal barriers and service barriers.

From the conclusions

Barriers are interrelated in many cases, but most are related to poor physical designs, inadequate policy considerations and negative attitudes. The findings reinforce previous research but with a user’s perspective. People who are deaf or hard of hearing are mostly absent in the literature. This is because it is assumed they are safe from physical obstructions. However, they experience their own barriers to inclusion.

The title of the paper is Designing out Barriers for Disabled: Towards an Inclusive Urban Environments.  Note that the preferred language in the UK is disabled people rather than people with disability. 

From the abstract

People with disability often struggle with the complexities of the built environment, hindering their full participation in everyday urban life. Accessibility and social inclusiveness are major challenges for active participation for people with disability.

The lack of legal obligation for authorities to implement inclusive solutions, and lack of training in disability awareness has led to environments full of barriers for the disabled community.

The research explored the nature of barriers faced by persons with diverse disabilities by highlighting a user perspective. The barriers fell into four categories: poor physical design, inadequate policies, negative attitudes, and absence of technical solutions.

Recommendations to overcome the barriers are presented in the research.

Go-along techniques inform design

There’s nothing like getting instant feedback as people negotiate the built environment. Go-along techniques inform design because they really get to the key points. Some of the exclusions are only obvious when pointed out and that’s valuable information.

The go-along technique is where researchers walk with the participant and observe the barriers they experience as they encounter them. The dialogue that ensues provides rich information about design – how to do it and how not to do it.  

Image taken from the research paper 

Researchers in Sweden used this method and found there is an ongoing multifaceted exclusion of citizens in the built environment. This is despite current building regulations. Also, it doesn’t meet the aim of inclusion and international conventions. 

However, there are opportunities to change this with knowledge about enablers in the built environment. The researchers point universal design as an important planning variable to bring about change.  

The research paper has a lot of excellent information, much of which planners and disability advocates hear anecdotally. This paper documents the issues well and in detail. 

The necessary enablers

Benches, or seating were the most mentioned during the go-along activities. These are a decisive factor for spending a day in the city centre. People would walk more if they could also sit. 

Access to public toilets was also critical. Finding them, having access, and in some cases, navigating payment systems all pose problems. Again, another factor in visiting the city. 

People who live outside the city centre need flexible mobility systems – public transport, plus being able to use a car and then parking the car. 

Lighting in public places, clear signage and orientation board were also important along with handrails in challenging environments. 

Planning process needs a re-think

The researchers argue that there is an urgent need to rethink the planning processes to account for human diversity. It’s essential to move away from notions of an ‘average’ person or the idea of normal.

There is a gap between what building regulations state as accessible and the the lived experience of accessibility (or inaccessibility).  As the researchers say,

 “The pointing out of the necessary enablers is important knowledge to achieve accessibility also in an overall, entire-city-perspective. The concept and practice of Universal Design is a key to pursuing such a development.”

The title of the research paper is, Is the City Planned and Built for me? Photos highlight some of the key issues experienced by participants. There is a lot of really good information in this paper. 

Ableism in planning

Attempts to avoid catching COVID caused people to change their behaviour in many ways. Working from home and not being able to travel meant more people walked in their local neighbourhood. Open space was at a premium. This led to pop up cafes and parklets and a few more planter boxes to make places more appealing. Planners said “we can’t go back to the way things were”. In that case says Lisa Stafford, we have to discuss ableism in planning.

“Pop-up cafes and parklets used tape barriers and step-up platforms, while planter boxes or pallet seating were positioned to create what seemed like another obstacle course in getting about.”

A group of people, some wearing face masks, are crossing the road. They are walking a safe distance apart.

Lisa Safford says that ableism is an insidious, unspoken prejudice that favours an idealistic view of an “able body”. It is not just having negative views of people with disability, it is a way of thinking about bodies that rejects difference. It’s thinking that “normal” is a real thing.

Ableism is entrenched in walkability metrics such as walking speed, our ideas of liveability, and approaches to older people. Stafford claims that ableism is rampant in planning and design decisions. The misinformed catch cry is that it’s only for a small portion of the population.

“Time and again I have heard universal design omitted in the provision of social infrastructure, due to budget shortfalls or inclusivity being too hard…”

A child wearing a pink jacket sits on a stone wall. A pair of crutches are propped up next to her. They have red and blue handles. Footpaths are key for children.

Let’s talk about ableism

First, we do not lack literature, guides and other tools on the topics of disability, diversity, equity and inclusion. Planners need to talk about the issues with each other, welcome disabled planners and connect with disability communities and their expertise. Do some real co-design processes.

Ableism is just one lens and individual experience ableism and discrimination in different ways. Embracing diversity is critical for people with disability who are Indigenous, female, low income and LGBTIQA+

Planning can make social change – in shapes lives and livelihoods. If we want real change we must confront ableism and the idea of “normal” or “average”. The Australian Bureau of Statistics counts people with disability (18%) separately from people with a long term health condition that limits their daily activities (22%). It’s not a small portion of the population.

The title of Stafford’s book chapter is, Planners, We Need to Talk about Ableism. The chapter is open access in Disability Justice and Urban Planning.

Are architectural competitions a good thing?

Architectural “products” involve many stakeholders which makes a complex process even more difficult. So where do architectural competitions fit in and do the winning designs reflect the diversity of society? A group of Austrian researchers checked out 15 competitions with 76 entries to see if they included universal design concepts.

A major finding is that there is room for better consideration of universal design in the early phase of the building process.

Almost all people spend a large part of their lives in a built environment whether their home, their work or leisure activities. Therefore architecture concerns everyone, not just architects and interior designers. An inclusive approach should be a necessity – a non-negotiable principle. But is it?

In the German speaking area of Europe the construction industry is highly regulated. To get attractive and economically viable designs, the competition method has evolved. Competition is an integral part of the the project as well as the tendering process. Once the competition process is over, a new process begins to realise the design. The aim of this method is to provide transparency in decision-making as well as good design.

Researchers found that at the competition stage of the process, universal design was reduced to wheelchair users. Also, while the term “accessibility” is used in documents, it is not reflected in graphic representation. Indeed, many graphics showed barriers to access. Accessibility emphasis, where it existed, was on entrances and sanitary facilities.

Another issue was found in jury statements which focused on specific architecture aspects without addressing diversity or disability. Accessibility is reduced to minimum standards such as the number of designated parking places.

Are competitions a good thing?

The overarching question of this research was whether architectural competitions are a good way to consider the diversity of disability. On a superficial level, organisers and participants deal with some basic access features. However, there is little space in competition entries to flesh out the detail beyond that of wheelchair users.

In summary: “Fundamentally, the term accessibility is considered important, but is very often only used as a superficial buzzword.”

A work table is filled with paper and folders and a woman is cutting a piece of paper with scissors. It looks like a group of people are working on a design.

The title is, The Built Environment and Universal Design: Are Architectural Competitions a Qualified Instrument to a Better Consideration of the Diversity Dimension Impairment? The writing style of the paper indicates that English is not the authors’ first language.

Architecture competitions for universal design

picture of a modern building Norway Opera House. Architecture competitions.

How juries assess universal design in architectural school competitions is critical to the level of innovation that can be expected. Norwegian Leif D Houck gives an excellent analysis of the way competitions are run and improvements for the future.

Houck says the reason to organize an architectural competition is to achieve maximum quality in a project. The idea is not to have a competition to see if anyone manages to comply the regulations, building codes and the competition brief. The idea is to achieve qualities beyond the regulations.

As Houck says, an architectural competition will likely result in different designs and solutions. In addition, the whole process from design through to the building stage has stages where the project has opportunities for improvement.

The title of the article is, How Juries Assess UD in Norwegian Architectural School Competitions. The article was published in Universal Design 2016: Learning from the Past, Designing for the Future H. Petrie et al. (Eds.) © 2016  

The picture is of the Oslo Opera House

Urban planning competitions

People sit around round tables discussing questions. There are four round tables shown in this picture

It’s time for planning competitions to have residents involved in design decisions and planning solutions. A select panel of judges are not looking for the same things. Planning competitions are used as a way to determine alternatives and promote innovative solutions in the early phase of urban planning.

The book  New Approaches, Methods, and Tools in Urban E-Planning, has an interesting chapter that outlines the findings of how e-participation can be implemented in urban planning competitions. You will need institutional access for a free read. The chapter is “Enhancing E-Participation in Urban Planning Competitions”.

From the abstract

Front cover of the book New Approaches methods and Tools in Urban E Planning

This chapter describes how web-based public participation tools are utilized in urban planning competitions. Public opinion is included alongside the expert view given by the jury. This chapter focuses on how public participation can be arranged in competition processes. It shows how the contestants use the information produced, and how it has been utilized in further planning of the area.

Based on two Finnish case studies, web-based tools can augment public participation in the competition process. However, the results indicate that the impact of participation on selecting the winner is weak.

Gendered spaces in urban design

Gender refers to the social, cultural and economic attributes and roles associated with being male, female or non-binary. These attributes can significantly influence how individuals experience and navigate spaces. This is how we end up with “gendered spaces”. Understanding these nuances is essential for creating inclusive and equitable environments.

The traditional division of labour can influence spatial patterns. For example women bear the primary household tasks which can affect their travel patterns.

A woman in a bright yellow coat and black hat is walking away from the camera down a street.

A short article by Kavita Dehalwar highlights three aspects that require consideration in spatial planning. Safety and security, universal design and accessibility, and participation and decision-making.

Safety and security

Women and transgender individuals may experience harassment which reduces their perceptions of safety. When this occurs it restricts freedom of movement and limits social and economic activity. Lighting, surveillance mechanisms can mitigate safety risks and engender a better sense of safety.

Universal design and accessibility

Gender-sensitive design considers how spaces are used by men, women and non-binary individuals. Gender-neutral facilities accommodating diverse identities and preferences reduces stigma and discrimination. Taking a universal design approach includes accessibility and convenience for everyone.

Participation and decision-making

Gender dynamics also influence participation in decision-making processes. Marginalised groups are often underrepresented in planning processes. This results in policies and intervention that inadvertently fail to address their needs. Co-designing with marginalised groups is one way forward.

The title of the short article is, Gender and Its Implications for Spatial Planning: Understanding the Impact.

Gender Equity in Design: A guide

Front cover of the Gender Equity in Design Guidelines.

Design impacts on the way we can navigate the world and participate. Gender equity in design is yet another element of designing inclusively. 

Rights, responsibilities and opportunities should not depend on gender. Treatment of women, men, trans and gender diverse individuals are often subject to stereotyping or generalisations about roles. But for many designers and policy makers gender equity is a new concept. So the Gender Equity in Design Guidelines are a great help. 

The City of Whittlesea in Victoria produced the Guide. As a local government authority the guide focuses on community facilities. It introduces the case for gender equity and has a focus on issues for women. While there is an emphasis on safety and easy access for women with children, gender diverse groups are included.  

What the guidelines cover

Many of the features capture the essence of universal design. The twenty page document covers site planning, concept design and documentation for:

  • Community centres
  • Maternal and child health
  • Youth facilities
  • Community pavilions
  • Aquatic and major leisure facilities
A young woman attends to a small child in a child seat on the back of the bicycle. The bike has a shopping basket.

The Guidelines acknowledge that any building project goes through several stages and has different stakeholders. Consequently, it only covers planning, concept design and detailed design and documentation. The construction phase is dependent upon the follow-through from planning and design.

The aim of the Guidelines look through a gender lens and is therefor not prescriptive. Consequently, regulatory standards and building code compliance and accessibility are outside the scope of the document. 

Gender Inclusive Urban Planning

Front cover of the Handbook. Blue background and white text.

A city that works well for women, girls, and gender non-conforming people of all ages and differing levels of capability supports economic and social inclusion. The World Bank ender inclusive planning and design is:

  • Participatory: actively including the voices of women, girls, and sexual and gender non-conforming people
  • Integrated: adopting a holistic, cross-cutting approach that centres gender throughout and promotes citizen-city relationship building
  • Universal: meeting the needs of women, girls, and gender non-conforming people of all ages and abilities
  • Knowledge-building: seeking out and sharing robust, meaningful new data on gender equity
  • Power-building: growing the capacity and influence of under-represented groups in key decisions
  • Invested-in: committing the necessary finances and expertise to follow through on intentional gender equity goals

Chapters cover the rationale for gender inclusion, foundations of planning and design, processes and project guidelines, case studies and further resources.

Urban planning and design shape the environment around us — and that shapes how we live, work, play, move, and rest. This handbook highlights the relationships between gender inequality, the built environment, and urban planning and design.

The 18MB file is downloadable directly or from The World Bank. An article in the Latin American Post summarises some of the content. 

A short video from The World Bank briefly explains some of the issues and what should be done. 

Smart cities: the road to inclusion?

The term “Smart Cities” conjures up ideas of good urban planning linking with Internet and communications technology. But how can it be smart if it is not also accessible and inclusive for everyone?

The smart city is about connecting technology with urban planning. But will it solve all the accessibility and inclusion problems?

A city skyline at night against a backdrop of a computer circuitry board.

Women, children and people with disability face difficulties accessing public space. This is because of safety concerns and physical barriers in the built environment. But public space must be welcoming and meaningful for all citizens. This is where community-led activities in designing public space becomes important.

Two researchers looked at digital technologies to see how they could help reframe public space design to be more inclusive. Technology should go beyond data collection to playing a central role in promoting social responsibility. Their research established a framework for creating inclusive public spaces based on site visits and users’ opinions.

The research study emphasises the importance of involving citizens in the governance of public spaces. They provide valuable data and insights about the quality and use of these spaces.

The title of the article is, The Use of the Smart Technology for Creating an Inclusive Urban Public Space.

From the abstract

Urban public spaces should be about community building, physical and mental well-being, social interaction, civic engagement, citizen participation, and economic vitality. However, low-income individuals, women, children, and people with disabilities often miss out. The paper discusses:

A framework of eight indicators: spatial distribution, typology, facilities and services, green and humid areas, governance and management, safety, user categories, and user satisfaction.

Involving citizens in leveraging smart technology for monitoring, providing real-time information and services improves facility efficiency, and creates an eco-friendly environment.

This paper promotes the development of an urban public space that caters to the diverse needs of the community, fostering a sense of belonging and well-being for all.

London’s Smart City Strategy

The aim of a smart city strategy is to improve the wellbeing of residents, social life and economic welfare through technology based interventions. Although technology offers several benefits for more inclusive and liveable environments, there are also drawbacks.   

Inclusiveness is embedded in the London Smart City Strategy, but there is still room for improvement.

A wet wintery street scene in London showing a line of mid-rise buildings and shops. London's smart city strategy.

A study of the strategy indicates that spatial inclusion is the major focus of the London smart city policy. A variety of assistive technologies promote inclusive housing, transport and health management systems. 

Improving citizen engagement through collaborations, increased transparency, and measures for preventing data misuse and misinterpretation will boost inclusiveness.

The London case study highlights the potential barriers in implementing inclusive strategies for smart cities in practice. The valuable lessons may provide good information for other cities. 

The title of the article is Inclusive Smart Cities: An Exploratory Study on the London Smart City Strategy.

Smart cities: a revolution?

City-wide technology offers hope for people with disability, but only if there is a shift towards universal design and inclusive solutions.

An article by Marcin Frackiewicz discusses the possibilities for smart and inclusive cities from a optimistic perspective of technology.

A smart phone and wifi icons sit over a background picture of a cityscape.

Street cameras to help keep people safe and automatic doors are commonplace technology. And newer ideas such as ridesharing are possible because of technology. Apps for real-time updates for public transport to minimise unpleasant surprises. So what else can we look forward to?

Frackiewicz claims that the use of data for fine-tune urban services enables a place for “undervalued voices”. He optimistically says smart city technology is equalising, by making sure that everyone thrives.

The title of the magazine article is, Breaking Barriers: The Smart City Revolution’s Quest for Universal Accessibility. It’s a flowery writing style with lots of poetic turns of phrase.

Architectural Science and User Experience

A book of long abstracts from the International Conference on Architectural Science and User Experience shows how varied this topic is. From Biophilic design and carbon reduction to environments that stimulate play and primary school design. One paper discusses the difficulties the architectural profession might encounter for new requirements to design inclusively. Time for some social science in architectural degrees?

The proceedings includes: active travel, housing, ageing, dementia, disability, digital technology, education and practice, air quality, landscaping, tourism, and more.

Front cover of the book of proceedings from Architectural Science and User Experience.

These short papers are from the 55th International Conference of the Architectural Science Association, 1-2 December 2022, Perth, Australia. Here is an overview of just one of the papers.

Architecture of inclusion

Architectural knowledge about designing for people with disability was held back by committing people to institutions and group homes. Consequently the teaching and design skills have not kept up with the times. The tendency is to conform to existing regulations, rather than being a driver of innovation.

New references in the National Standard of Competency for Architects around designing for disability require graduates to demonstrate these competencies. Using the experience of the inclusion of Indigenous competencies in the National Standard, this paper explores the difficulties the profession and teaching institutions may encounter around identifying people with lived experience working in architecture, or as design teachers.

The paper discusses the units of competency and relevance to building codes, standards and planning controls including barriers to access for all. In essence, educators and practitioners must draw on building and environmental sciences and social sciences in their preliminary work.

Skills in diversity equity and inclusion are not supported with legislation. The challenges for architecture courses is the lack of disability knowledge and Indigenous knowledge. University systems, structures and teaching competencies are challenged by these new requirements.

Architecture needs to move on from ‘risk’ in administrative processes such as contracts, to progressive themes including care for Country and equitable access.

The title of the conference proceedings is, Architectural Science and User Experience: How can Design Enhance the Quality of Life. It consists of short papers rather than full papers.

Access the whole book via the article, Regenerative Design Performance assessment: a critical review on page 504 on ResearchGate. It will show all the other abstracts. Otherwise you can purchase the book online.

Inclusive and sustainable communities

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Sustainable Development Goals are intertwined. Lisa Stafford explains the connections in a paper outlining her co-designed research project. She takes a disability justice perspective on inclusive cities through the voices of people with disability.

Inclusion and equity are integral to achieving sustainable cities and communities. But the voices of people with disability are missing in the urban agenda.

People standing in front of large paper with graphic harvest (drawings) from community chat about inclusive and sustainable communities.

A previous paper briefly explains the research design, preliminary work, and the co-design method.

Key findings

The five elements of inclusive communities need to be reflected in how communities and cities are designed and planned.

  • Planning for human diversity
  • All people-centred urban governance
  • Equity, accessibility and ease are core bases
  • Planning for connectedness
  • Vibrant places and experiences

Graphic by Kylie Dunn

Graphic showing the five elements of making inclusive communities.

To achieve equitable outcomes means addressing the entrenched notion of ‘normal’ and the stereotypes of what constitutes ‘disability’. Fundamental to making communities inclusive is the ability to connect with nature and other people and place. Vibrant places provide experiences that are important to wellbeing and a sense of belonging.

Inclusive communities is a lived concept, not something drawn up in plans or policies. It is multidimensional and experienced in places. The legacy of ableist urban planning means that communities remain places of exclusion.

The title of the article is, The Makings of Disability-Inclusive Sustainable Communities: Perspectives from Australia. Note that Stafford and the research team prefer to use the identity first term “disabled people”. They acknowledge that some people prefer “person first” language of “people with disability”. The UN Convention uses the person first terminology.

From the abstract

The right to inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable suburbs is an aim of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 11. The focus is on addressing race, disability, class, gender and age inequality and injustice by the year 2030.

Despite this interest in creating inclusive sustainable cities and communities, we still know little about what this means for disabled people. In this article, we address this gap through participatory qualitative research study.

The study, Planning Inclusive Communities, involved 97 people (9-92 years of age). More than 50% identified as disabled people from two Australian regions – Tasmania and Queensland.

The research revealed five core interrelated elements in “The Makings of Inclusive Communities”. These five elements reinforce the importance of interconnected social, economic, and built environment structures and systems in facilitating inclusion, and that inclusion happens in place and movement through everyday experiences.

The findings offer new insights through the voices of disabled and non-disabled people, around issues of equity, access, and inclusion. The research guides future urban policy and planning for inclusive cities and communities.

Footpath clues: where are they?

Research by Guide Dogs NSW/ACT reveals there are new footpath and urban design challenges faced by people with low vision or blindness. The research is part of a longitudinal study to understand what environmental and footpath clues are needed and used. Tactile indicators are only part of the story even when they are present and properly placed.

A total of 622 people with low vision or blindness from around Australia took part in the survey. Many challenges impact their confidence in getting out and about. New-style urban design features are creating additional challenges.

Image from Walking for Everyone Guide

A woman wearing bright blue clothing is holding a white cane while walking along a residential street.

The first survey was conducted in 2015. The 2023 survey revealed new challenges not mentioned in the earlier survey. Micro-mobility, shared paths, shared roads, and crowd protection barriers are now on the list of challenges.

Shared paths

The application of shared paths has increased significantly since 2015. Consequently, this emerged as a major issue in 2023. The speed and unpredictability of cyclists and micro-mobility users means these paths feel unsafe.

Flush finishes

Another new and popular urban design feature is flush finishes. Not surprisingly, 80% of respondents lacked confidence in crossing roads when the footpath and road were at the same level. Places where the road and footpath are level are often found in shared zones and flush finish intersections. Respondents over the age of 65 find these finishes particularly unsafe.

The absence of clear distinctions and continuous finishes hinder straight-line navigation. This is made worse by street furniture, goods displays and outdoor dining positioned along the building line.

Flush finishes at intersections with traffic lights where there are no gutters, kerbs or kerb ramps are a significant challenge. With multiple lanes of traffic in both directions, together with buses and light rail, create high levels of anxiety for safety. Consequently, they are often avoided.


Key wayfinding factors for safe travel are based on maintaining a straight path, safe road crossings, and knowing where it safe and hazardous. This is regardless of whether the person is using a cane, a guide dog or their remaining sight.

Kerb ramps are vital markers. People who are blind or have low vision know to pause and assess the situation. They also reinforce appropriate guide dog behaviour when approaching roads.

Read more about this research in an article in Access Insight. It’s titled, Environmental clues: Using them and losing them. The article explains why newer street and urban design features are preventing people with low vision or blindness from equitable use of our public domain.

From a universal design perspective, many design features that are essential for some, are also good for others. Children are taught to stop at kerbs for safety, and older people prefer clear separation between footpaths and other zones. People with neurodiverse conditions, including dementia, also need clear signals to navigate the built environment.

Walking is supposed to be good for us, but not if street design causes anxiety and prevents people from making journeys.

Tactile markers vs wheelchairs: A solution?

One paper that sparked a lot of interest at the UDHEIT conference is the thorny issue of pedestrians and wheelchair users negotiating those yellow strips of tactile markers. Tactile markers, known as Braille Blocks in Japan, cause problems for wheelchair users, pram pushers, and others with mobility difficulties.

Based on research by Yoshito Dobashi in the context of public transportation, the solution seems simple. Create small breaks in the line of tactile blocks to make wheelchair and baby buggy crossing points. These crossing points are now installed in Fukuoka city and in some airports, but not yet on a national scale.

Train platform showing wheelchair crossings across a strip of yellow tactile markers.

Dobashi cautions that, “…improvements need to be made in response to the voices of visually disabled persons who note that the crossing points pose a hazard to them. In his latest study, Dr. Ito of the University of Tokyo proposes a new braille block system that incorporates an improved version of braille blocks with wheelchair crossing points upon verifying its feasibility with wheelchair users and baby buggy users.

Good research paper by a man passionate for his topic and keen to find solutions. The image shows Dobashi presenting at the universal design conference in 2018 in Dublin.

Yoshito Dobashi pointing to his slide at the UDHEIT conference showing wheelchair crossing points, one with a man wheeling a suitcase.

The title of the paper is, Re-examining the Creativity of Universal Design Initiatives in Public Spaces in Japan.  You can download the full paper by clicking the download pdf link.

The article is from the open access proceedings of the UDHEIT 2018 conference held in Dublin, Ireland, an open access publication.

Health promoting urban design

Big trees under a blue sky in Skansen, Sweden. Wooden tables and benches in the foreground. Health promoting urban design.
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 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.

Healthy View of Placemaking

A young woman and young man are walking on a wide concrete path. They are wearing white T shirts and jeans.An opinion piece on the Design Council website gives an overview of the study they did with Social Change UK. More than 600 built environment practitioners across the UK completed the survey. They found that healthy placemaking often sits outside mainstream housing, public health and placemaking policy. 

The article explains the economic benefits of healthy placemaking. The Design Council defines healthy placemaking as, “tackling preventable disease by shaping the built environment so that healthy activities and experiences are integral to people’s everyday lives.” Neighbourhoods that enable include:

    • Physical activity: To increase walkability in buildings and neighbourhoods and encourage healthy modes of transport
    • Healthy food: To improve access to healthier foods
    • Social contact: To design well-connected housing and neighbourhoods that provide access to facilities and amenities to reduce social isolation and loneliness,
    • Contact with nature: To provide access to the natural environment, including parks
    • Pollution: Reducing exposure to air and noise pollution.

This all adds up to compact, mixed-use, walkable and wheelable neighbourhoods with leafy streets and great parks.  

Measuring the benefits of universal design

A yellow caution sign is taped to the ground with red tape. The doorway entrance has a step below the door with yellow and red tape on it.Dr David Bonnett writes in an opinion piece for the Design Council, that health professionals need to step up to show the benefits (cost savings) of designing inclusively. Inclusive design contributes to our health and wellbeing, but these benefits are rarely measured.

In the UK new buildings, both public infrastructure and private homes, must incorporate basic access features. But older buildings are not under the same regulation. There are costs for refurbishing older buildings, but by now we should be calculating that cost more effectively.

The cost of improving these are borne by local authorities. Bonnet says, “Design professionals, highways engineers included, are open to influence, and access consultants and others can tell them what to do. But first, health professional must assist in devising a method for demonstrating the benefits of inclusive design in order to make the case. Concerns for health succeeded in a ban on smoking in public building almost overnight. Inclusive design – already fifty years in the making – has got some catching up to do.” 

Building health and wellness

A woman strikes a yoga pose alone in a city square with tall buildings around.We need healthy architecture – that is, architecture that supports human health and wellness. Louis Rice claims that human illness is related to the design of the built environment. Key issues are discussed in a book chapter that covers social, mental and physical health and “restorative” design. He proposes a “healthy architecture map” based on materials, environments, agency and behaviours. The title of the chapter is A health map for architecture: The determinants of health and wellbeing in buildings. Abstract is below.

There is more useful information and research in the book including a chapter from Matthew Hutchinson, The Australian dream or a roof over my head. An ecological view of housing for an ageing Australian population.  

The World Health Organization also links health and the built environment in the WHO Housing and Health Guidelines. It includes a chapter on accessible housing.

Health, Technology and Buildings: a review

Abstract: Research into health, particularly social and psychological health, is crucial. Ultimately, an in-depth understanding of social and psychological health will more than promote well-being.

Technology research is indispensable, particularly concerning health and the built environment, given the need to create holistic and supportive frameworks for well-being. Moreover, because literature reviews establish the foundation for academic inquiries, they provide valuable overviews for foresight into grey research areas, particularly multi-disciplinary research like health technology and the built environment.

Hence, this study aims to discover the existing themes on health, technology, and built-environment nexus subjects while revealing the grey areas and suggesting proactive areas for future research. The objectives drove this aim to:

1. investigate the implications of technology for the social and psychological dimensions of health;

2. uncover the likelihood of a nexus between health, technology, and the built environment; and

3. highlight new research perspectives for the concluding seven years of the SDGs (2024–2030).

The review results highlighted ten themes around which a nexus exists between health, technology, and the built environment; they also pointed out new research perspectives for the next seven years (up to 2023).

The title of the paper is, Health, Technology And Built Environment Nexus: A Systematic Literature Review .

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