Cinema, user experience, and public space

Front cover of the publication showing a long gradual flight of steps in a street with a travellator running beside it. Cinema experience, public space.Three papers from the International Journal of Architecture and Planning address universal design. Once you scroll through the usual context-setting paragraphs on the principles of universal design, the research itself has something to offer. The articles are on cinema experiences, user experience and public space 

Disability and Otherization: Readings on Cinema in The Light of UD Principles. The study explains the relationship between architecture and disability in cinema, and how it is portrayed. Using 6 well-known films that include othering, the researchers apply the 7 principles of universal design to analyse how disability is portrayed. Interesting way of dissecting societal attitudes and how such films might impact on social attitudes perhaps reinforcing prejudices.

User-Involved Universal Design Experience in the Space, Product and Service Development Process, concludes that universal design is about multiple users regardless of the design discipline. The aim was to encourage students to design beyond specialised “disability products” and to integrate a wide spectrum of users.

Public Space and Accessibility examines pedestrian ways including ramps. Specific dimensions make this a guide largely for wheelchair access. Car parking and bus stops are also covered. The article reports on a workshop they ran on universal design. It ends with the note that other disabilities including cognitive diversity now need to be considered. Perhaps of most interest to access consultants to compare with Australian standards.  

Accessibility of public space

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inclusive Design Canvas for architectural design

Three men in hard hats stand on a building site looking at architectural design plans. It’s true that our built environments are becoming more accessible. Wheelchair users in particular are experiencing those improvements. However, design thinking is locked into “disability access” in building codes which remain focused on mobility impairments.  Consequently, architectural design practice hasn’t embraced the wider concept of inclusion for everyone. So, if we are serious about inclusion we need to embed inclusion into architectural design education. 

Matteo Zallio carried out a study to find out what inclusive design can bring to the building industry. He reports on his findings and presents some strategies for future-proofing buildings. One of these is the Inclusive Design Canvas. 

Zallio set out to identify the challenges in the design process and to test attitudes to inclusive practice. One of his findings was that education about inclusion should start in primary school and be woven into all courses throughout school and university. 

User Journey

Mapping the user journey is key and that means designing from the inside out.  That is, think about who will be using the building before beginning the design process. Consider features that influence how brains and bodies interact, connect the senses and cognitive perception. Once again, designing inclusively begins at the very early stages of the design process. To help with this, Zallio devised the Inclusive Design Canvas.

The Inclusive Design Canvas

Zallio proposes a strategic design template to help professionals with the inclusive design process. There are three elements: User journey; User capabilities; and User needs. Within each of these are physical, sensory and cognitive conditions. The chart below is available for downloaded separately

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

Concluding remarks

To design inclusively, we need inclusive design education, use of appropriate terminology, and create diverse teams with knowledge of inclusive design. Maintaining inclusive features across the life of the building is also key. The Inclusive Design Canvas maps the user journey to consider the diversity of users. Post-occupancy evaluation will also inform future designs. 

Key points in the article

    • Inclusive Design is still not widely adopted in architectural design practice.
    • Building inclusively should embrace inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility.
    • Education is key to help foster inclusion in architectural design practice.
    • User journey mapping can improve the Inclusive Design process.
    • Post-occupancy user feedback can help architects to better design for inclusion.

The title of the article is, Inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility in the built environment: A study of architectural design practice. This research paper has more than the usual text about the issues of implementation. It provides in-depth understanding of the practical barriers and a tool to help practitioners and educators. 

Matteo Zallio did the research and John Clarkson supervised the study. They are both part of the Inclusive Design Team at the University of Cambridge. Previous work has focused on product design and the highly regarded Inclusive Design Toolkit


Universal design and public libraries

view of university of seville library with students sitting at desks. bookcases are in the background. Public libraries have more to offer than just books. Some people stay to read and browse, and others use meetings rooms for their community groups. The role of librarians is to help people to find what they are looking for. They are also keepers of local knowledge and services. People of all ages and backgrounds come and go. That means we are exposed to people with different values and interests. Potentially, that makes libraries a place to forge social inclusion. That’s where universal design comes in. 

Gerd Berget’s writes on the theme of public libraries as places where diverse groups are visible to each other. She argues that public libraries have the potential for increasing respect for each other and thereby reducing social exclusion. In her paper, Berget proposes that the way to introduce more diversity into libraries is to take a universal design approach. 

The paper begins with a history of disability and social justice. The role of public libraries as a physical space follows. The final part of the paper discusses the purpose of universal design and it’s role in social emancipation. Berget discusses the seven principles of universal design and how they apply to libraries in the final part of the paper.

The title the paper is, Universal Design as a Premise for making Public Libraries into Low-intensive Meeting Places. It’s a nicely written piece and good for newcomers to the field of universal design. It covers the philosophy, social issues of disability and the practicalities of universal design. 

Berget concludes

“Although full inclusion is not yet achieved, public libraries have a great potential in increasing the social justice and reducing oppression. To achieve that, librarians need to be aware of and engaged in making (and keeping) the libraries into low-intensive meeting places. There is also a need for more user engagement in the design of the public libraries, both regarding buildings, collections and services. Finally, it is important to a preserve the public spaces that facilitate convivial encounters”.

Design guide for accessible public spaces

Cover of the Guide with lots of little pictures of place in small squares like a chequerboard. Design guide for accessible public spaces.The Illustrated Technical Guide to the Accessibility Standard for the Design of Public Spaces published in 2014 by GAATES (Global Alliance on Accessible Technologies and Environments) is comprehensive. GAATES is based in Canada and refers to the Americans with Disabilities Act for standards, but they also include best practice features and design considerations. This means the design guide is applicable almost anywhere. 

The guide is available as a Google Docs version or you can view it online. The Table of Contents lists: Paths of Travel, Recreational Trails, Beach Access Routes, Outdoor Public Use Eating Areas, Outdoor Play Spaces, Accessible Parking, Obtaining Service in Public Spaces, and Maintaining Accessible Public Spaces.

Ageing is more than a health issue

A view of George Street Sydney showing pedestrians walking across the mall created by the light rail system. Ageing is not just a health issue.
Picture by Ashleigh Hughes

Guidelines, toolkits and policy frameworks related to population ageing have been around for a while. But are they being used? Ageing is more than a health issue – it’s an urban planning issue as well. COVID-19 has made this very apparent. A case study based on Greater Sydney highlights the issues. 

The authors discuss an “ageing city” in the first part of the article where they focus on Australian data on ageing and dementia. The second part of the article provides more information on what is working well and what needs to change. The article uses data, state and city policies to assess how well Greater Sydney is doing as a city for older people. 

Key themes

Sydney has many blue and green spaces that are great for mental and physical health. However, these are inequitably distributed across eastern and western parts of the city. Access to shops and services likewise. 

Active and social places are for the most part good for everyone. Quiet places are important too especially for people with dementia. Feeling safe is related to how active an older person is in their community. The more they get out and about the less worried they are about crime. 

The researchers report on interviews with health and planning professionals, and provide several first hand quotes. 

Key themes from the interviews included: the need for intergenerational spaces, considering mobility and distance between key services, and better access to gardens. Familiar landscapes and architectural landmarks provide a sense of security along with quiet ‘slow spaces’. Ageing and dementia could get lost when nested under policy words such as “liveability” and “universal design”.

Many things are possible and easy to do if planning and health professionals work together. That seems to be the way to go. 

The last part of the article discusses the many toolkits, guidelines and policy frameworks for age-friendly cities. They range from international policies through to the work of the Greater Sydney Commission. The article concludes with recommendations.

The title of the article is, Age-friendly urban design and mental health in Sydney, Australia: a city case study. It is published in the Journal of Urban Design and Mental Health Edition 7: Aging City. There are other articles on the same topic in this edition. 

Authors are, Safia Moore, Associate at Arup, and Georgia Vitale, Practice Leader at Grimshaw. 


Making Melbourne inclusive and accessible

A Melbourne street scene showing pedestrians and a tram.Melbourne is one of the most ‘liveable’ cities in the world and the Victorian Government wants to keep it that way. But Melbourne can’t be truly liveable if it isn’t inclusive and accessible for all. Infrastructure projects, buildings, open space, and transportation need to link together seamlessly. 

Melbourne has done some good work. Retrofitting tactile footpath indicators and Auslan-interpreted performances are a start. But steep ramps at railway stations are still a problem and Federation Square has a multitude of stairs and rough tiles. An article in the Smart Cities Library says that developers are not on the same page as the Victorian Government. 

Front cover of the report.A report from the University of Melbourne looks at some of the issues for people with disability. Academics worked with City of Melbourne staff and disability advocates to brainstorm ideas that would work. They assessed these ideas to see which were the most important and feasible.

Transportation was the key issue across all disability types, and issues with footpaths were high on the list. This links with another report about Victoria’s Public Transport Journey Planner.

Transportation is key

 Victoria’s Public Transport Journey Planner enables travellers to plan ahead for their journey. But does it work for wheelchair users? 

Distance view of a major train station showing platforms and trains.Three case studies of train stations in suburban Melbourne show that in spite of a policy aim of going beyond the Transport Standards to take a whole of journey approach, there is some way to go when it comes to full accessibility. 

A nicely written report with a detailed methodology that can be used as the basis of further studies across Australia. The title is: “Does information from Public Transport Victoria’s Journey Planner align with real life accessibility for people in wheelchairs?”  Perhaps another case of bureaucrats not actually knowing what constitutes accessibility? Sometimes it is more than “access”.

Front cover Transport Strategy 2030Melbourne published their Transport Strategy 2030 which has updated information. There’s a lot about bikes but not much about inclusion and accessibility.


Size matters in urban design

Aerial view of the city block plan in the city of Barcelona. Size mattes in urban design.
Barcelona architecture: high angle view of the city’s typical urban grid

Walkability is much more than paved walkways. To encourage people to get out and about, places and spaces need to be inviting. We know that urban design impacts our health and wellbeing so it’s important to get it right. Whether people go by foot, e-mobility or mobility device, size matters in urban design. 

Nikola Babic says that the scale and form of buildings has a big impact on walkability. Height and width of places and spaces play their part. For example, the sense of scale is blurred when streets are too wide. Active frontages such as shops and cafes, good lighting and a sense of safety are critical factors in attracting pedestrians. Green infrastructure is another important element to include. 

With the outbreak of COVID19, more people are aware of the importance of walking. However, most footways are too narrow to provide physical distancing. A good case of where size matters. It also matters for accessibility. Having welcoming streets should be part of the accessibility plan. 

Babic discusses the “superblock model” in Barcelona and the 15-Minute City in Paris as examples of what works and what doesn’t. His article is very readable and good for anyone new to this topic. Babic encourages discussion with others to further develop ideas. 

Babic ends with, “This short paper is just a beginning of a more in-depth research of walkable and ‘healthy’ urban forms which will explore the complex relationship between the history of urbanism, urban form, urban design, social processes and well-being.”

The title of the article is, Superblocks – The Future of Walkability in Cities? It can also be downloaded from the Academia website.  


Heritage no barrier to accessibility

A street in medieval Chester, UK. Heritage no barrier to accessibility.
A street in Chester, UK

Medieval cities with cobblestones, castles and Roman city walls are not the most disability-friendly places. And they are not easy to make accessible either. However, heritage is no barrier to accessibility in five European cities. They’ve made accessibility a top priority thanks to technology, design and engineering.

The five cities are the Dutch towns of Breda and Rotterdam, Lyon in France, Slovenia’s Ljubljana, and Chester in the UK. The motivation is that these are popular tourist destinations. These examples show that where there is a will there is a way. 

Some of the solutions are:

    • lifting cobblestones, slicing them and re-laying them upside down
    • an app that lets you tell the council about paving issues and follows progress until the remedial work is completed
    • sound beacons that tell blind people when and what bus or tram is pulling into the stop
    • an app for the most accessible restaurants, hotels and hotspots
    • building cascading ramps to the upper walkways of ancient city walls 

Part of the motivation is the tourist trade, both nationally and internationally. However, the EU also takes inclusion seriously and gives access awards to cities that prioritise accessibility in urban planning. You can read more about each city in an article on the website of a Swiss wealth management company. 

The title of the article is Cities without barriers. Heritage is no longer an excuse for exclusion.


Walkability in neighbourhood design

Wide footpath in a shopping strip which has a veranda overhead. There are planter boxes and a seat.Health professionals say the lack of walking is a major factor in poor long term health. But do planners consider the breadth and diversity of the population? Perhaps we need a broader definition of walkability in neighbourhood design.

Lisa Stafford and Claudia Baldwin discuss the issues in their paper. They say few articles on walkable neighbourhoods include people with diverse abilities across the age spectrum. We need to design equitable space – places where everyone is welcome. They recommend that studies on walkable neighbourhoods encapsulate diverse abilities and ages. 

The title of the article is, Planning Walkable Neighborhoods: Are we overlooking diversity in ability and ages? It is available through Sage Journals via your institution. Or you can access for a free read through QUT e-prints

Walkable, rollable, seatable, toiletable

A busy pedestrian street with lots of restaurant tables on both sides.We need a broader term than walkable to explain how everyone can be actively mobile in the community, says Lloyd Alter. In his blog article he adds that unless you are “young and fit and have perfect vision and aren’t pushing a stroller… many streets aren’t walkable at all…” Alter takes his point from a new book where other terms are coined:

    • Rollability. Walkability isn’t enough anymore
    • Strollerability, for people with kids
    • Walkerability, for older people pushing walkers
    • Seeability, for people with vision impairment
    • Seatability – places to sit down and rest
    • Toiletability – comfortable places to go to the bathroom

“All of these contribute to making a city useable for everyone. So we need a broader term for this” says Alter. His suggestions are activemobility, or activeability to cover all the ways different people get around in cities. He says he is open to suggestions for a better word. 

The title of the blog article is, We need a better word than ‘walkable’. The title of the book is Walkable City Rules by Jeff Speck.