Urban psychology on the streets

Three young people wearing headsets are looking at their smartphones in an outdoor settingColin Ellard outlines the work of the Urban Realities Laboratory at the University of Waterloo in Canada. Using devices for either tracking eye movements or heart rates, students took their research to the streets. They measured responses to features such as green space, visual complexity and interaction with traffic. The article is titled, A new agenda for urban psychology: out of the laboratory and into the streets.  In his summary, the author argues that with the expansion of urban centres across the globe, being able to live healthily and comfortably, we must also consider our mental health as well as any other physical attributes.

The Laboratory’s mission is “to explore the connection between individual psychology and urban design in order to elaborate the principles that might contribute to psychological resilience and wellbeing in the urban environment”.  

Who says it is liveable?

Urban landscape with shade trees and lots of casual seating with people sitting.Cameron Jewell writes in Fifth Estate that the notion of liveability should be questioned when it comes to Australian cities. This is in spite of our cities regularly ranking highly on this measure. Jewell says there is little evidence cities are achieving their policy targets for walkability, public transport or public open space. He is commenting on a report of five years of research, Creating Liveable Cities in Australia. At the end of the article are the seven key recommendations. Evidence based policies tops the list. Accessibility gets a brief mention in terms of employment and amenities. The questioning should include accessibility and universal design. If one in five of us is living with disability, and double that at least for including inconvenienced family members, we are not making places and spaces liveable for everyone. And we are not meeting our targets under the National Disability Strategy either.   

The future of cars and land use planning

A woman with blonde hair sits reading a magazine resting on the steering wheel of the car she is (not) driving. The road and other cars are visible through the windscreen as the photo was taken from the back seat.Driverless vehicles could bring out the best – or worst – in our cities by transforming land use according to an article in Fifth Estate.  Technology has entered just about every aspect of our lives. Urban design and planning included. Things to think about are: freeing up road space for other uses, turning parking lots into social uses, redesigning building and street interfaces, transforming fuel stations into something else, and converting domestic garage spaces in suburbia. But there could also be an increase in urban sprawl and changing property values and planning controls. This is disruption for planners. The article is based on research by an interdisciplinary group and has many links to further reading. The article includes a video about walkability and was originally published in The Conversation.  

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.

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 Academia.edu 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. 

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.

Applying the principles of universal design

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 universal design 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.


Zoo signage everyone can understand

The sign says Please do not feed the animalsMichael D W Richards presents an interesting article on the need to standardize zoo signage so that everyone can understand, particularly DO NOT FEED signs. He concludes,

“To achieve this goal they should utilise a design which is reliant on both imagery and text to convey a message, with imagery at the forefront of the design. A human hand, an item of food and an image of an animal should be displayed. … When imagery and text is displayed on feeding restriction signs, all visitors benefit. This form of provision should not be seen as excessively catering for the needs of marginal groups. Rather it should be viewed as an approach that represents a heterogeneous society, increasing access to information and enjoyment for all, through engaging signage.”

The title of this article is Designing Accessible ‘Do Not Feed’ Signs for Zoological Gardens. It is part of a series about zoo accessibility.

Photos or Pictograms?

elephant-5What kind of signs inform and appeal to zoo visitors most? This was an answer Richards at wanted to know. Using qualitative and quantitative research methods he found the answer. It seems the photographic signs were most popular, but that is not the whole story.

The title of the article is, Directional Zoological Signage Image Preferences: An Inclusive Design Perspective


Universal design, social sustainability and design

Icons for accessibility .An article focused on the social dimension of sustainability says that universal design is the way to go. It argues that there are promising results for a better future for social sustainability. In doing so, it presents universal design in all its formats in a clear and informed way. The way in which universal design is presented and discussed has particular clarity. For example, 

“Universal design is always accessible, but because it integrates accessibility from the beginning of the design process, it is less likely to be noticeable.

Universal design sometimes employs adaptable strategies for achieving customization, but it is best when all choices are presented equally. Some universal design is transgenerational, but the approach is inclusive of more than just age-related disabilities.

Universal design is sometimes adaptable and sometimes transgenerational but always accessible. Universal design, adaptable design, and transgenerational design are all subsets of accessible design. Sometimes a design can be considered to be two of these subsets, and some designs are all three. Not all accessible design is universal. Universal design is the most inclusive and least stigmatizing of the three types of accessible design because it addresses all types of human variation and accessibility is integrated into design solutions.”

The paper concludes that design schools should include the philosophy of universal design throughout their education program.

The title of the article is Applying Universal Design concept in interior design to reinforce the Social dimension of sustainability.  While the explanations of universal design are clear, the paper enters into technical areas that are not so easy to read. There are photos to illustrate points.

Tehran case study

A distance view of the city of Tehran showing high rise buildings and mountains in the background. Social sustainability and universal design.
Tehran city

Despite of the number of people injured in the Iran-Iraq war, and legislation for accessibility, urban spaces in Tehran still have a long way to go.

Hence this article outlining research on finding solutions for increasing access in the built environment. The research asks: What is causing inefficiency in the regulation of universal design, why is social participation by people with disabilities limited, and which factors are contributing to universal design? It seems the issues are worldwide regardless of whether the population is affected by war. 

The title of the article is, Universal Design and Social Sustainability in the City: The Case Study of Tehran Iran. 

From the abstract

The main goal of this research is finding solutions for increasing social interaction and greater participation of people with disabilities in public spaces by applying universal design.

The consequences show that many of problems are rooted in cultural issues. The people must attend to disability as a public concern which can involve everybody. They must comprehend that all members of society, regardless of their physical condition, have the right to use public facilities independently.

The second problem is related to lack of any integrated approach to applying universal design. This research proposes some solutions such as preparation a universal design master plan, an integrated approach for implementation project in all organizations, and public education for improving citizens’ knowledge about universal design.

The article is from the conference proceedings of: Universal Design 2016, Learning from the Past – Designing for the Future.  It is open access.


Accessibility Toolbar