Let’s play together in NZ

The idea of inclusive playspaces is catching on. More design thought is being given to making them more welcoming and accessible for everyone. And it’s not just about children with diverse needs: parents and caregivers require design thought too. A case study from Auckland, New Zealand is a good example of how to create playspaces. So, let’s play together!

An article in the Journal of Public Space explains the project in detail. The project began with a review of the existing facilities and how to achieve the outcomes within budget constraints. The park was also a popular fishing spot so this also had to be considered in the planning.

Aerial view before construction. Let's play together project.

Locating the playground, car park and toilet together enables families to stay and play for longer.

The aerial view shows the separation of the toilet (L) from the existing play area (R).

The co-design process

The Manurewa Local Board contacted multiple organisations to invite them to participate in the co-design process. The co-design process was driven and guided by a project team, which consisted of a landscape architect and a project manager.

There was concern that using a co-design method would take the project over budget and require bespoke playground equipment. These assumptions proved not to be the case. Indeed, the learning from the process will be with the participants for all future projects.

Two draft concept plans were created and three outcome measures were set. These were:

  • Accessibility and inclusiveness
  • Overall connection
  • Increased utilisation

The article goes into detail about the play features and equipment and the adult and child change facilities. Bilingual signage in the park shows pride in the area’s strong Māori identity. Co-design methods might take a little longer but the pay-off is worth it. It’s worth doing for the great learning experience for all involved.

The title of the article is, Te Pua Keith Park – Nau mai, Haere mai Let’s Play Together. The article has many photos that highlight the key areas of the playspace. There’s a useful reference list as well.

There is also a magazine article that shows photos of the many park elements and features.

The communication board in the playspace.
The playground communication board

From the Abstract

Play equipment included vestibular, visual, and auditory pieces as well as a customised 2m high wheelchair accessible play tower. Caregivers could play with their children through smooth and step-free surfaces and an adult and child swing.

Communication boards were collaboratively designed with visual images representing various features of the playground. QR codes linking to online videos with New Zealand Sign Language were also provided.

The toilet facilities were crucial for many families, including those with bigger children or teens. Keith Park worked with a leading toilet manufacturer to co-design a bespoke double toilet block with enhanced accessibility features including an adult-sized change table.

Every aspect of the park was carefully selected and designed including fencing, furniture, plants and colours. Colour was used to guide children with low vision and created a play circuit to assist neurodiverse children. The playground welcomes all to play, which is a core tenet of child development, socialisation and participation.

Editor’s comment. If we keep using the term “all-abilities” it will always be considered “for disability” and not “normal” for everyone. This quote from the article is a case in point:

Manurewa Local Board “requested an all-ability playground, but also wanted to see Te Pua Keith Park be the best playground in Manurewa and be considered a local destination.”

Consequently, we should just use the term “inclusive” and drop “all-abilities” from our vocabulary to prevent the notions of being “special” in some way. Otherwise it isn’t inclusive thinking.

Literature review of playspace guides

There’s lots of different terminology covering the topic of inclusion and diversity, but they all generally mean the same thing. On one hand, the very nature of inclusion and diversity should allow for different ways of understanding the concepts. On the other hand, researchers who are seeking clarity on the topic find mixed terminology difficult to work with. A literature review of playspace guides is a case in point.

Two small boys are crouched by the side of a pond and are reaching into the water.

Inclusive playspace guides have different ways of explaining how to be inclusive.

The United Nations and other international organisations use the term “universal design” but it’s not universally used. Many other organisations use inclusive design and accessible design. A research team in Ireland decided to look at playspace guidelines to find out more.

Playspace guides often use the term “universal design” but they don’t always mean the same thing. A scoping review found 27 guideline documents where 13 of them referred to universal design approach for inclusive playspaces. While they referred to a universal design, they used this term interchangeably with accessible design and inclusive design.

Playspace aims are the same

The 13 guidelines referring to universal design described the general aims as:

  • Moving beyond minimum accessibility to maximise varied play opportunities and social integration
  • Creating a space where everyone feels welcome
  • Providing the same or equivalent experiences and activities
  • Designing a space with accessible, inclusive routes and infrastructure, and relevant ground and elevated level activities.

Of the remaining fourteen guideline documents not referring explicitly to universal design, 10 utilised inclusive design in combination with accessible design. However, the explanations of inclusive design were the same as those for universal design. Two documents used accessible design exclusively, with a greater focus on children with disability.

A play area showing brightly coloured poles and a boardwalk leading to equipment.

The core concept of inclusion underpinned all the guideline documents.

The researchers found that less than half the guideline documents referred to the classic seven principles of universal design. Instead, they articulated their own principles. They lament that this is problematic claiming it adds further confusion about what an inclusive playground is or should be.

The researchers conclude that creating inclusive playgrounds likely needs a tailored version of universal design. Their conclusion suggests they believe there is one ‘correct’ way of applying universal design – that is, using the 7 principles. It also assumes that the principles of universal design have not evolved since their inception more than 25 years ago.

The title of the review is, Designing public playgrounds for inclusion: a scoping review of grey literature guidelines for Universal Design. The extensive reference list is good for finding playspace guides from the English-speaking world. It includes well-known Australian guides, but not the landmark Everyone Can Play guide.

Social inclusion for playgrounds

Two children are climbing on a rope web obstacle course.

Social inclusion is just as important as physical inclusion in playgrounds. So it isn’t always about special equipment or design.

It seems really difficult to create inclusive playgrounds without making them sound as if they are special places for children with disability. That was one finding from research in Switzerland. A commonly shared perspective was that a playground is only inclusive if it has special equipment.

So moving from “all-abilities” to “inclusive” might not have taken us any further forward in designer attitudes. But we don’t need a special label – a playground is a place for people of all ages – for everyone.

An inclusive playground could be any playground as long as children with disabilities are welcome there.

Study participant

The presence of other children with disabilities was important to give a feeling of belonging. This was particularly the case when other parents displayed negative attitudes towards their children.

Invisible barriers

The researchers found that lack of relevant policies and support from politicians was a key barrier. Participants felt that inclusion is not a policy priority when designing playgrounds. Consequently, funding to improve playgrounds was not forthcoming.

Despite years of global and international campaigning by disability groups, attitudes towards children with disability remain mixed. The classic claim is that there are so few children with disability in playgrounds (because you don’t see them). So why go to such lengths to make all playgrounds inclusive: “Because no child with a disability is coming anyway.”

Negative attitudes remain in the community leading to judgmental attitudes by parents of children without disability. Consequently, parents of children with disability did not feel welcome. So physical accessibility is only part of the story of inclusive playgrounds.

The title of the article is, Designing inclusive playgrounds in Switzerland: why is it so complex? Although the research is specific to Switzerland, the findings would apply in many settings. The researchers conclude that a universal design approach, which considers social inclusion, is the way forward.

The New South Wales Government is updating their very successful guide, Everyone Can Play.

Abstract

Playgrounds designed with the intention to be inclusive are one approach to creating equal opportunities for all children, including those with disabilities, in terms of their right to play. However, when building inclusive playgrounds, the focus is often limited to the physical environment.

Yet, studies investigating children’s play in inclusive playgrounds have shown that other aspects of inclusion, such as social inclusion, are equally as important as the physical environment. Nevertheless, there is a lack of knowledge about how inclusion is considered in the design of inclusive playgrounds.

Therefore, this study aimed to explore the design and use of inclusive playgrounds among people involved in the provision of inclusive playgrounds and advocates of children with disabilities from a Swiss context. Four focus groups were conducted with 26 participants involved in providing inclusive playgrounds or having a professional or personal relationship with children with disabilities.

Results revealed no uniform understanding of inclusive playgrounds. Barriers to inclusive playground provision included negative attitudes, lack of knowledge about
inclusion and the absence of policies for inclusion.

Through the focus group discussions, it was proposed that a community network is needed, to bring together children with disabilities and their families with playground providers when designing inclusive playgrounds. In this context, user involvement can inform the design of playgrounds and support the understanding of the needs of people with disabilities in playgrounds, among other things.

To enhance inclusion for children with disabilities on inclusive playgrounds, design approaches that consider social inclusion, like Universal Design, are proposed.

Inclusive Play guide from South Australia

Front cover of inclusive play guide.

Inclusive play enables everyone to connect with their surroundings, with other people and with themselves.

The South Australian Government has produced a practical guide making playspaces inclusive. Connection is a key element: Connect with place, Connect with each other, and Connect with self.

  • Connect with place: A place without barriers that is easy for everyone to acces and enhances the existing environment.
  • Connect with each other: Facilities and equipment that encourage everyone to interact and play with each other while feeling safe and welcome.
  • Connect with self: An experience that help every individual activate their senses, stimulate their imagination and challenge their limits.

The process

The first step in the design process is checking that everyone can get there and access the place. The second step is to make sure everyone can easily find their way around. The third step is to remember access to the fun stuff – is the equipment accessible? Environmental factors such as shade, natural features and nearby accessible facilities conclude the list.

The guide continues with advice on community consultation, encouraging intergenerational activities, and thinking about amenity – seating, toilets, lighting and safety.

The guide touches on aspects of play such as considering the senses and challenging activities across ages and levels of capability. The document concludes with some checklists for the preceding elements. These cover access, landscaping elements, layout, safety and location.

The guide is easy to follow and shares some similarities with the NSW Government’s Everyone Can Play guide.

You can download the guide from the South Australian Government website.
The document was found in a literature review of universal design play guidelines. The review is titled, Designing public playgrounds for inclusion: a scoping review of grey literature guidelines for Universal Design.

A Market Place for Everyone

A crowded public market place.Getting people out and about relies on having places that are accessible and provide safety and comfort for everyone. Markets are one way to activate space and encourage people to get out and about. But they don’t happen by accident. The secret of a market place for everyone is that there is plenty to do and is accessible and inclusive for all.

Creating sociability in public space is often the most difficult aspect of placemaking. Markets are gathering places that can help the socialisation process. Research indicates that socialising is one of the main reasons people visit markets. 

Public markets provide economic opportunity, bring diverse groups together, promote public health, and activate space. More importantly, they encourage people to get out and about. 

 

Wheel shaped graphic showing six elements of public markets: Activates Space, Brings people together, promotes public health, renews neighbouroods, economic opportunity, links urban rural communities.

 

Placemaking Europe’s Project for Public Spaces has seven principles for a successful market city. They are briefly listed below. 

Seven principles of market cities

1. Variety: A market city includes both food and non-food markets across a city-wide market system.

2. Collaboration: A market city collaborates with diverse partners and stakeholders. They include advocates for health, community services, not-for-profits as well as government agencies. 

3. Measurement: A market city measures the value of its markets especially for vulnerable neighbourhoods. The quality of physical access and facilities and the health impact. Analysing all aspects of social and economic outcomes helps to develop a city-wide market system. 

4. Resilience: A market city has facilities for storage, processing and distribution of food and goods produced in the region.

5. Excellence: A market city invests regularly in its facilities which includes maintaining existing structures. It also invests in well trained staff to operate the market system. 

6. Opportunity: A market city supports vendors to start a new business or expand an existing one.

7. Place: A Market City recognizes that its markets are public spaces that celebrate cultural heritage. Public spaces in and around markets are safe, accessible, attractive and inclusive.

The picture above shows a very crowed market place which some people find uncomfortable. Not everyone enjoys being with so many people being close together. To be inclusive, markets also need quiet spaces for resting, and facilities that support people with physical and sensory disabilities. 

The best way to achieve an inclusive market place is to begin with community consultation – the first step in all placemaking. 

Placemaking Europe has an extensive toolbox of placemaking guides and manuals and is worth browsing. The toolbox begins with three key elements; know your community is the first step.

 

Health-promoting urban design

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the Abstract

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

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

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

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

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

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

Access Statement for The Kelpies in Scotland

Giant silver coloured horse head sculptures depicting mythical Kelpies in a new parkland. Visitors can see the access statement for the Kelpies for information before their visit. The Kelpies are 30 metre-high horse-head sculptures in a new parkland area near Falkirk, Scotland. The project connects 16 communities in the council area and the Clyde Canal. The sculptures attract many visitors to The Helix site and the whole project was designed with access and inclusion in mind. This is apparent in the Access Statement for the Kelpies – a good guide for all visitors.

The Access Statement for The Helix and the Kelpie sculptures uses and plain language and lots of photos. The photos show key places such as car parking, the visitor centre, playground, café and toilets. Visitors can hire manual wheelchairs and dog bowls are provided for assistance dogs. 

The Access Statement is not an overarching policy document. It is a visitor guide that includes information about the level of access visitors can expect. One of the best examples of visitor access information – makes it good for everyone.

There is more information about this destination and how to get there on the Accessible Travel Online Scotland website. Accessible Travel Scotland also has an accessible travel hub.

The video below provides more information about The Kelpies, the largest public artworks in Scotland. It explains the story behind the sculptures and their construction. 

There is more information on travel and tourism on this  website. 

Creating a walkway with universal design

Stovner Tower in Oslo. Aerial view showing the looping walkway built on large timber poles - a walkway with universal design.Lookout towers are usually built with steps, so how can you make them accessible? The answer is of course a ramp, but not just any ramp. The Stovner Tower in Oslo shows how you can create a beautiful walkway with universal design. It curves and loops for 260 metres until it reaches 15 metres above ground. This provides excellent views of the city and landscape beyond. Located on the forest edge it is a destination for everyone to enjoy.

The project is described in detail with several images on the DOGA website. The key part of the design was the co-design process and community consultations. This was essential for gaining community support at the beginning of the project.

The path is wide enough for two prams or wheelchairs to pass each other. The slightly inward sloping railing gives an additional sense of safety.  Lighting at night makes it attractive as well as safe and accessible both day and night. 

The Stovner Tower illuminated at night.The tower has become a popular destination for both locals and visitors. It’s used for weddings, meditation, exercise, celebrations and encourages people to experience nature.

This project is an example of collaboration between local government, landscape architects and contractors. Universal design drove both the design process and design outcomes. It won a landscape architecture award for universal design in 2020. There’s a video showing it with snow and lighting on the visitor website.

Norway has universal design written into their planning and zoning codes. Other articles on Norway are: 

Schandorff Square: Parking lot to park 

Taming the wilderness with inclusive design  

 

Cities People Love: Letting children play

Line drawing by Natalia Krysiak showing children playing in a street in Cities People Love article.r
Play Street drawing by Natalia Krysiak

Cities People Love website has an article about prioritising children over cars. Designing streets to actively encourage play is a growing trend in Europe. The concept, known as ‘Woonerf’ was originally implemented in the Netherlands and Belgium. It aims to equally balance the needs of drivers with those of pedestrians, cyclists and children at play. 

Signage, low speed limits and traffic calming bumps and bends are part of the solution. Temporary street closures are another strategy to encourage play. It’s a collective responsibility to ensure the safety of children playing.  

Natalia Krysiak’s article is titled, Cities for Play: Designing streets that prioritise children over cars. In one example, she describes the design of the Hackney Play Street which has rocks, logs and a cubby house. The picture below clearly shows the seating, a log and tree plantings following the route of the footpath. 

The street has a wide nature strip alongside the footpath with seating, grassed area and a log. Hackney Play Street design by Muf Architecture.
Image from Cities People Love: Hackney Play Street

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Krysiak says we should start questioning why the convenience of drivers is prioritised over the health and wellbeing of children in street design. After all, placing children’s play at the heart of neighbourhood design benefits everyone. 

There are links to other publications, one of which is Designing Child-Friendly High Density Neighbourhoods. 

The 1000 Play Streets Toolkit is a great Australian resource. The Toolkit is specifically designed with advice for local governments.

 

Sensory gardens: inclusive or segregated?

Bright purple lavendar in a sensory garden.Sensory gardens are usually associated with people who are blind or partially sighted. But this strategy is not inclusive – everyone should be able to enjoy the experience. Gardens that are fragrant, colourful, create sounds, are nice to touch, and good to taste are for everyone. Together with accessible amenities, sensory gardens can be inclusive rather than segregated.

COVID has raised the importance of trees and gardens for the health and wellbeing of city-dwellers. A study in Poland assessed sensory gardens in the context of urban forests. Trees in urban settings: street trees home garden trees, and trees in parks make an urban forest. The aim of the study was to show that sensory gardens are just one element of urban forests that everyone can enjoy.

The study assessed fifteen gardens and one sensory path. The sense of smell was given priority, but other amenities were lacking in these gardens. The authors concluded that a universal design approach would make these gardens more inclusive. 

The title of the article is, Recreation and Therapy in Urban Forests—The Potential Use of Sensory Garden Solutions.

Find out the basics of a sensory garden from Houz website – Please Touch and More: 5 Elements of a Sensory Garden

 

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