Dementia and urban design

An older man and woman sit on a wooden slatted park bench. The man is holding a blue umbrella to shade from the sun. There is another empty bench next to them. They are sitting alongside the path and there are trees behind them.The incidence of dementia is predicted to increase as the global population ages. Many people with dementia are able to live independently for several years before they need constant care and support. Studies are showing that the design of the built environment is influential in supporting people with dementia to maintain their sense of well-being and independence. In Improving the lives of people with dementia through urban design, Barbara Pani presents four brief case studies: a gated community, a dementia-friendly city, intergenerational housing, and health services at a neighbourhood level in a social housing estate. The article provides technical information and in the conclusion raises several points. Retrofitting existing buildings could be better than massive redevelopment; consideration of people with dementia could also be good for the wellbeing of people with mental health issues, and the importance of developing social spaces at the neighbourhood level. 

Urban design and wellbeing of older adults

The photo shows the facade of an old red brick building with an assortment of graffiti and tags. There is a doorway and in front is a rubbish binKeeping mobile and active whether walking, riding or using a mobility device is essential for staying connected and maintaining good mental health. According to the authors of “Neighbourhood Amenities and Depressive Symptoms in Urban-Dwelling Older Adults“, past research suggests that the effect of poorly designed and maintained environments can have a negative effect on the mental wellbeing of older adults. If getting out and about is restricted because the environment is not accessible, or perceived as unsafe or unpleasant, this can lead to depressive symptoms.

An interesting report from Gillepsie, LeVasseur, and Michael, who conclude that their findings “support public policy to promote neighbourhoods with diverse amenities as a means to support mental health in older adults”.

One of the main findings was, “the lack of diverse amenities within the neighbourhood was associated with depression among those older adults with greater mobility, i.e. the capacity to travel into the neighbourhood. Consistent with other findings in our study, amenity diversity was more relevant to older adults that engaged in regular walking behaviour, or had high mobility status (Nagel et al., 2008). Among those older adults with low mobility, we observed no difference in depression by amenity diversity. Older adults with restricted mobility may be less aware of the resources available (or not available) in their neighbourhood.”

Beyond the city

A tree-lined walkway with a wide grey path with a gravel edging. there is grass on either side. Beyond the city- regional and rural.Because so many of us live in major cities, it is easy to forget regional and rural communities and their need to plan and create communities that are healthy and accessible for everyone. We need to go beyond the city to see what rural town centres can do.

Town centres have footpaths, but these often disappear in the residential areas, or are patchy at best. Or they are shared cycling and pedestrian walkways – a design strategy that is not suited to everyone, particularly older people. Distances to services and shops mean the car is essential.

Susan Thompson discusses built environment issues in rural areas in her article, Beyond the city – healthy built environments in regional and rural localities. She says, “Healthy planning is about supporting the wellbeing of all people, no matter where they live, their age, physical and mental abilities, and irrespective of their socio-economic status” The article also refers to case studies that provide some good ideas for creating communities where people can be active and feel that they belong.

The article comes from the UNSW City Futures blog page.

Equity, health and high density living

landscape view of tower buildings in the distance and green parkland in the foreground. It depicts high density living.According to research by Susan Thompson and Gregory Paine, lower income and disadvantaged households feel the negative impacts of high density living more than others. They conclude that “blindly pursuing a uniform denser city agenda will only reinforce and exacerbate health inequalities”.

The concept of universal design captures the healthy built environment agenda along all other aspects of urban planning and design. Steinfeld and Maisel (2012) define universal design as “a process that enables and empowers a diverse population by improving human performance, health and wellness, and social participation”.

Urban environments should be suitable for all, not just for some.  See the article, which first featured in The Fifth Estate, for more detail. Susan Thompson and Gregory Paine are part of the City Futures Research Centre at University of New South Wales.

Feeling welcome in public space

A woman sits on seat in front of a white weatherboard building. She is facing the road. There is another seat nearby and a small shrub in a pot set between the seats. Feeling welcome in public space.
A seat is a welcoming aspect

How does urban design make you feel? A survey of more than 5000 people carried out by Center for Active Design provides some answers. Using photos of public spaces respondents gave quantifiable answers about feeling welcome in public space.

Three of the key features were seating, plantings, and lighting. The full results are published under the title The Assembly Civic Engagement Survey. The findings are separated into park design and maintenance, neighbourhood order and disorder, and welcoming civic spaces and buildings.

Feeling welcome in public space can be simple things such as having a place to sit. You can read the overview in an article by FastCoDesign, Science is Proving Why Urban Design Matters More Than Ever.

For more on what makes a place welcoming for older people (and therefore everyone), see COTA NSW Liveable Communities Age-Friendly Checklist.

Books by Jos Boys

Front cover of book by Jos Boys. Dark green background with human figures in white Jos Boys’ latest book Disability, Space, Architecture: A Reader, is a collection of both academic and personal accounts of how the built environment is experienced by different people. It explores the interconnections between disability, architecture and cities. The writing style is mostly non-academic and includes chapters from a man who is blind and a woman who approaches universal design from a feminist perspective. 

This book follows Doing Disability Differently, which was cover of book showing a young person in a wheelchair looking out over rooftops in the London Eye. Doing disability differently by Jos Boys.published in 2014. The Architectural Review online publication has an interesting, if short, review of the book in which Jos Boys argues that rethinking ability and architecture offers a powerful tool to design differently. It asks the intriguing question: can working from dis/ability actually generate an alternative kind of architectural avant-garde?

You might also be interested in reading another article in The Architectural Review, Redefining modular man for a new era of inclusivity by Catherine Slessor.

Universal Design and Cultural Heritage

A photo of architectural plans. Universal design and cultural heritageDo architects design first and worry about legislation later or is it the reverse? Danish researcher Camilla Rhyl decided to find out in the context of increasing universal design in the built environment. She found that the legislative interpretation takes precedence over architectural interpretation and is perceived as limiting creativity and architectural quality. So, can universal design and cultural heritage work together?

Architects regularly work with sensory, social and cognitive aspects of design, but there is no legislative reference to this part of their work. The following is from the second half of Camilla Rhyl’s abstract from a book chapter, So much more than building regulations: Universal design and the case of practice.

“The article shows how their methods, values and architectural thinking is built on a foundation of multisensory inclusion and quality, only they do not perceive this understanding as being UD in the general and legislative manner. There seems to be an apparent gap between their values, methods and architectural thinking and the legislative framework in which UD is presented and perceived currently in Norway and Denmark.

Through an example of a cultural heritage (CH) project by the Danish architect Merete Lind Mikkelsen, the article demonstrates how it is possible to interpret UD in CH practice without compromising architectural quality or UD, but rather expand and develop the architectural understanding of the possibilities of UD.”

The full document may be access through the Aalborg University site. If you subscribe to ResearchGate or you may be able to access this chapter without needing the whole book.

Published in: Accessibility As a Key Enabling Knowledge for Enhancement of Cultural Heritage, 2016, p. 115-130. 

Architecture competitions for UD: codes or innovation?

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 today and improvements for the future.

The following excerpt from the introductory section provides a good overview and direction of the discussion in the article. We would do well to take up the recommendations here in Australia.

“The very 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. No, the idea is to achieve qualities beyond the regulations.

An architectural competition will most likely result in different designs and solutions – with different qualities. Additionally, a project’s development from developing the building program until the building stage contains stages in which the project is in process and will (hopefully) be improved.”

Lid’s approach to look at universal design at different levels from strategic to instrumental, is useful in the discussion of what level universal design should be solved in architectural competitions. Which challenges should be solved in the competition stage, and which challenges can be solved in the development of the winner project.

You can download the full article, How Juries Assess UD in Norwegian Architectural School CompetitionsThe 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 spaces and universal design

Front cover of TeMA JournalAcademics and government staff are working behind the scenes to create universally designed urban environments. Turkey was one of the first signatories to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and this is a likely driver of change. Published in TeMA (Journal of Land Use, Mobility and the Environment), Evaluation of Urban Spaces from the Perspective of Universal Design Principles uses the city of Konya as a case study to evaluate the current situation and pose recommendations for improvements in the public domain. 

This is a good resource for urban designers who are yet to address physical access and universal design in the built environment, or have addressed only the minimum access compliance requirements. The many photographs help to explain the issues.

The seven principles of universal design are applied in a practical way using examples. The introductory section to the article explains why disability access alone is insufficient, and that inclusion of all people is the aim. Here is a section from the introduction stressing the importance of UD over basic access:

“… [I]t would be rather a discriminatory act to construct disabled-only designs. It would also be another discriminatory policy to establish the kind of institutions that were specifically catered to the use of disabled individuals alone. Disabled individuals themselves vehemently oppose such types of practices and demand to live under equal terms with the rest of citizens. In lieu of such approaches, it would be smarter to arrange the kind of settings and spaces in which all members of the community were comfortable to live collectively.

The truth is that rearrangement of physical environment to suit to the easy-use of elderly and disabled individuals would translate to the structuring of physical spaces favorable for all users. In an attempt to generate solutions to the problems met in urban life by elderly and disabled individuals, it would be a reasonable practice to conduct all-inclusive arrangements to reunite urban spaces with the entire community rather than discriminate such individuals. Accordingly, during the stage of planning physical environment spaces, it is advocated to accentuate and employ universal design concept and principles recognized as an all-inclusive design approach integrating the entire community.”

The slippery case of slip resistance

A graph showing slip resistance gradings.Richard Bowman’s recent publication challenges conventional methods of testing tiles for slip resistance. Testing is mostly done in laboratories and the results are used for setting Standards for slip resistance.

In real environments, speed of walking, inclines, changes in weather, and cleaning materials all have an effect on the slip resistance of tiled surfaces. Bowman argues that these are not always taken into consideration. While the paper is very technical, it is essential reading for anyone involved in access compliance and all round safety for everyone.

The title of his paper is, Can we develop slip resistance metrics that ensure appropriate tile selection?  Read to the end to see what he has to say about two popular Australian access guides that cover slip resistance.

Richard Bowman is a ceramic engineer, who spent 30 years working as a principal research scientist at CSIRO – Australia’s national scientific research organisation. Richard also presented a paper at the 2014 Australian Universal Design Conference. A follow up paper was presented at the Slips, Trips and Falls Conference in Madrid, 2020.

Extract from Abstract:

This paper reviews several aspects of the state of the art of slip resistance testing in the context of trying to identify an ISO testing procedure that would provide suitable metrics for optimising appropriate tile selection. While existing test methods might be represented as being fit for purpose, there are several areas of test protocols that could and should be significantly improved. …While the existing paradigm of solely assessing the ex-factory slip resistance of tiles is flawed and contrary to sensible regulatory measures, new data is required to establish credible evidence-based practicable standards.


Accessibility Toolbar