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


Can I get there? Can I play? Can I stay?

Front cover of Everyone Can play guideline. Can I get there? Can I Play? Can I Stay?
Front cover of the guideline

The Everyone Can Play guideline developed by the NSW Office of Open Space and Parklands has three guiding principles. Can I get there? Can I Play? Can I stay?  These three principles embody the essence of universal design. They were distilled from an inclusive design process involving key stakeholders in a series of workshops. The guideline content was discussed and agreed throughout the process and is presented in an interesting and engaging way in the final document. 

The three Can I…? principles are best described by those who use playspaces, and three videos below do just that.

Can I get there? relates the experience of a parent:

Can I play? relates a family experience.  

Can I stay? relates the experience of grandparents

However, the 3 Can I’s are more than this. They can be used by council staff to evaluate existing playspaces to see what needs improving. Designers and planners can use them as overarching design guidance to keep them on track. 

The 3 Can I’s are transferrable to other situations. Can I get there? is generic to all designs. Can I play? is being able to do whatever it was you came to do. Can I stay? is feeling welcome and comfortable for as long as you choose or need. 

See a previous post for more videos and the story of Everyone Can Play


Older adults use playspaces too

A man is enjoying himself on exercise equipment in a playspace for older adults. Play is often associated with children, but play is for everyone. We know that grandparents take their grandchildren to playspaces to spend time with them. But older adults use playspaces too – that is, if they include the right design elements. 

The Auckland Design Manual has a new resource – Designing Play Spaces for Older Adults. The nicely designed 10 page document has great pictures of older people enjoying themselves. The concept of universal design is translated into the adult playspace context:

      • Safety
      • Be Active
      • Connect Me
      • Take Notice
      • Give

A group of Maori women are exercising together in the playspace.There is a new concept, “take notice”, which means being present, aware and mindful, all of which have mental health benefits. Parks are also places where people can volunteer so that brings in the concept of “give”. 

Auckland City Council’s research found that fear of being a victim of crime and fear of falling prevent park use by older adults. Consequently, recommendations for safety include:

      • Ensure the environment is well maintained and well lit
      • Provide accessible parking, toilets and drinking fountains close to the play area 
      • Ensure paths, handrails, seating and signage follow universal design guidelines. Seating should have back and arm rests.
      • Position the play space so it is visible from surrounding buildings and well connected with short direct paths that are not steep
      • Allowance for a food truck or coffee cart to facilitate activity and increase passive surveillance
      • Consideration for pandemic safety with wide paths and sanitiser stations.

A nice addition to the Auckland Design Manual that has a section on universal design that leads to other sections. 

The Everyone Can Play guideline also promotes the concept of playspaces for all ages. 


Universal design and gardens

A public garden with brightly coloured flowers and plants set around a water feature. Universal design and gardens. COVID has shown us how important gardens are to everyday life. Whether it’s a home garden or a park garden, they are good for our wellbeing. But not all botanical and park gardens are accessible to all. Applying the principles of universal design in gardens in the planning process is a good way to go. 

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) has a guide to applying the principles universal design in gardens. Including people with disability in the planning process is, of course, essential. Gardens can be beneficial to people with disability especially if there is good visual and tactile information. 

The ASLA Guide lists some design aspects to consider:

    • Choose a seasonal plant palette that emphasises seasonal change 
    • Circular or figure-eight paths, which are good for people with dementia who are likely to wander
    • Frequent, flexible seating with arm and back rests throughout the garden. Seating that is light enough to be moved encourages social engagement.
    • An obvious inclusion is to limit the level changes, but where they are necessary they should be well signed with multi-sensory wayfinding.
    • Toilets are a must and should be located within easy line of sight, not hidden. Clear signage throughout the garden is also a must.
    • Secluded areas are also helpful, not just for people with autism or other cognitive conditions, but for private contemplation. 

There’s more detail on the ASLA website on this topic with some useful case studies.  

Community and botanical gardens are a place of relaxation and enjoyment. They provide an opportunity to experience nature. There are many physical and mental health benefits to experience nature. Applying universal design principles in the planning a design process allows many more people to enjoy the benefits of a public garden.

1000 Play Streets Toolkit

A man is drawing chalk lines on the roadway. In the background children are gathered. 1000 Play Streets Toolkit.The play street movement is taking off and councils across Australia are starting to take an interest. Play streets are run by residents for a few hours at quiet times of day. They can be weekly, fortnightly or monthly, or even one-off events. Regular times bring the best results for creating connection, and it’s all explained in the 1000 Play Streets Toolkit

The aim of the 1000 Play Streets project is to reclaim quiet residential streets as places for neighbours of all ages to connect. Older Australians will remember playing in the street as they were growing up and this is a way to recapture some of that value. But now neighbours need help to make it happen and this is where local councils come in. 

The Toolkit is specifically designed to provide planning advice to local governments that want to build local communities. It requires the approval of temporary street closures and support for neighbourhood groups.

The overall aim is to create a play street movement that develops organically through citizen action. The Toolkit is for local government to help them on their Play Street journey. 

There are several supporting documents to the Toolkit including case studies.

Blue and white logo for the 1000 Play Streets Toolkit. The online Toolkit links to online case studies, templates and other resources. It includes issues such as traffic, public liability and a risk benefit assessment.

There is a video of the national launch of the Toolkit and the Play Street movement. There is also a slideshow with the key elements of how and why the project is important. 

Frequently Asked Questions provides answers to the typical questions councils would ask. This document provides similar information to the Toolkit, but in a different format.