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. 

 

Universal Design for Yellowstone

Mammoth Hot Springs. Rocky terraces formed by yellow sulphur stand in front of a bright blue sky. Universal Design for Yellowstone.
Yellowstone National Park

Similarly to museums, a visit to a national park is an experience. So, applying universal design principles is more than just being accessible. It it has to offer enrichment, be multi-sensory, and engage participation. An in depth study by landscape architect Rachel Cross showcases the application universal design in Yellowstone National Park. 

Mammoth Hot Springs at Yellowstone National Park is a great place for a case study. Rachel Cross includes international examples and illustrations of national parks. They show how universal design strategies were applied using the four elements: accessibility, enrichment, engagement and multi-sensory experiences. 

The report features the planning and thinking behind the Yellowstone project and includes design drawings. The last part of the report has the universal design guide for national parks. 

Page from the report showing the four pillars of universal design for Yellowstone National Park.
4 Pillars of Universal Design: accessibility, enrichment, multi-sensory, engagement.

Each of the four pillars are explained in further detail for designers, an lists what is required and what is recommended. The final part of the report has concept drawings with design objectives. 

The title of the report is, Yellowstone For All: Creating an immersive, universal design experience at Mammoth Hot Springs. It is a great resource for experienced landscape architects and students alike. The reference list at the end adds value. You can also download the full PDF document. 

Project summary

“Universal design is an important, emerging practice that strives to create inclusive experiences for every person who visits a place, no matter their abilities. This report examined acts and guidelines currently used to inform the design of inclusive spaces, finding key gaps. The new guidelines were then applied to the projective design for Mammoth Hot Springs in Yellowstone National Park.

The projective design illustrated new possibilities for amenities to support accessibility, enrichment, engagement, and multi-sensory elements, thus creating a more inclusive and immersive site experience. Although many aspects of universal design can be achieved in a site design, there are unique challenges that designers must address for each project.”

Cross makes an important point about incorporating universal design features into the concept design and not leaving to a later stage. The value of universal design is better understood when it is part of the whole design process.   

Inclusion in Motion Playspace

Overview of the Inclusion in Motion Playspace.
Inclusion in Motion Playspace

The Inclusion in Motion Playspace is a great example of a local community project. Similarly to the Touched by Olivia founders in Australia, a family decided to do something when they encountered the “don’t stare” moment. Their son’s limited opportunities for play with other children was the driving force behind their decision that this had to change. It all began with a small local committee.

Fundraising efforts made the playspace possible together with volunteer effort to help with the build. According to Center for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access (IDEA) the build is about to begin.  

Danise Levine from IDEA played an integral part in this collaboration as a designer. Universal design strategies are built into every aspect of the project. The Inclusion in Motion founders have a short story to tell on their Dream Big website.

The website includes an excellent video (below) of what the playspace will look like. It’s a good example of how a small community can come together for a common purpose and it showcases some of the best universally designed equipment available

The universally designed Everyone Can Play guidelines take a similar approach to designing playspaces. More resources are in the Parks and Playspaces section of this website. 

 

Kindergartens: Inclusive spaces for all children

Five small children stand in a line with their backs facing the camera. Kindergartens inclusive spaces for all children.
Kindergartens: Inclusive spaces for all children?

What do children think of the play spaces designed by adults? Why not ask them? That’s what a two Norwegian researchers did, and what an interesting result they found. They asked kindergarten children what they liked best and made them comfortable. Children with and without disability mostly wanted the same things, but there were a few differences. The researchers found the answer to what makes kindergartens inclusive spaces for all children.

Asking small children what they want and what they like is not a common research method. Within a qualitative framework, children collaborated with researchers. They identified the places and spaces that made them feel comfortable and included. Small places equipped with different types of construction materials were a favourite. 

Although the context is a supervised kindergarten, there are some interesting findings for unsupervised playspaces. These relate to both group play and parallel play. Fixed small places with non-organised materials were found to be group inclusive. Building blocks were attractive to all children. 

The children guided the researchers through their outdoor spaces where they found many activities in parallel. Children formed their own groups for games. Some children with socio-emotional issues, were less at home in these games. However, the ability to move to an area to be alone might have been a positive response. 

From the Conclusion

Small places with materials such as cushions and building blocks appear to be socially inclusive spaces for all children. We have to question our adult values in designing playspaces and the involvement of children with disability. Children have their own ideas of what is safe and fun. 

“Our study has shown that there is still a discrepancy between
ideology, children’s preferences and pedagogical practices. Children’s voices told that (dis)ability is a spatial phenomenon and guides the inclusive pedagogy closer to the dynamic between children, place and space.”

The title of the paper is, Kindergartens: Inclusive spaces for all children? It is an open access article. It’s worth noting that 97 per cent of children aged four to five years in Norway attend a kindergarten and that includes children with disability.

Note: An issue with fenced child play areas is that adults with disability can’t get in due to the gate latch being inaccessible. The same issue occurs with child care centres and kindergartens.

See the Parks, Open Spaces and Playspaces section of this website for more resources. 

Landscape architects lead the way

Image from the Arcadia report showing seating decorated with a shape of the shoreline.
Sandstone seating and Turpentine Ironbark timber. Corian detail shaped to reflect the shoreline of Sydney Harbour,

It’s fitting that a landscape architecture firm should tackle the topic of connection to Country. After all, they are the ones designing our outdoor spaces. NSW legislation dictates that Aboriginal heritage must be protected. Consequently, the responsibility falls to design professionals. It’s a means of enriching the built environment, and not just a legal necessity. So, it falls to landscape architects to lead the way. 

A report by Arcadia Landscape Architects aims to show that engagement with First Nations people is not difficult. They are concerned that designers will unwittingly perpetuate the colonisation of space if they continue with established practice. As they say, it has to go beyond token responses of “ornamental recognition”. They add that engaging with First Nations people continues after the life of the design project. 

The report aims to encourage the wider built environment industry to engage with First Nations people. The concept of Country is more than just land, water and sky. Country is language, family culture and identity, and is loved, needed and cared for.   

“Arcadia emphatically rejects the softening of language when referring to British invasion and processes of colonisation. It is a trend for these processes to be referred to as “arrival” and “settlement”, however the softening of language perpetuates myths of terra nullius and denies First Nations people their history and suffering endured.”

Front cover of Arcadia report. Landscape architecture leads the way.The report covers:

      • Approach and a note on language
      • How to engaging with Knowledge holders
      • Engaging with Country, which has 5 steps and examples
      • Engaging with Industry 
      • What to do when you can’t engage 
      • Where to next? includes conducting cultural training

There is a list of references and further reading at the end. The title of the report is, Shaping Country: Cultural Engagement in Australia’s Built Environment.  

Arcadia collaborated with Budawang/Yuin researcher and spatial and cultural designer Dr Danièle Hromek and Yuin woman Kaylie Salvatori, Arcadia’s Indigenous Landscape Strategist, to develop this research report.

 The NSW Government Architect’s Better Placed document has a section on Connection with Country

There are more articles on landscape architecture in the parks, open space and playspaces section of this website. 

 

Bamboo playspace wins award

Four people are crouched down working on the bamboo playspace tructure.
Image from the Design, Build, Play report.

Dhaka, Bangladesh has an award-winning bamboo playspace. The collaboratively designed playspace is a venue for theatre and dance and a local gathering place for families. Bamboo artisans, children from the Peace Home and architecture students worked together throughout the project. The bamboo playspace brings together vulnerable children with local neighbourhood children. The International Union of Architects judged this project to be worthy of the Friendly and Inclusive Spaces Award.

An aerial view of the playspace showing how the bamboo was constructed.
Aerial view of the award-winning Bamboo Playspace

The inclusive playspace was designed and built by bamboo artisans, children from the Peace Home and architecture students. It is part of  Paraa’s Critical Architecture, Design and Sustainable Environments course. A fundamental part of the course is for students to work with a community to resolve spatial challenges.  Hands-on projects such as this are challenging established educational practice at university level. 

The playspace has a central open space where children can play or organise festivals and performances. The structure can accommodate around 200 people at three different levels. Specific features were designed to include therapeutic exercises for children. There are play features for younger children where adults can supervise. Older children gravitate to the more adventurous zone. The semi-shaded decks offer flexible space for workshops and places to hang out. 

There is a magazine article that has more information and a series of pictures.  The action research and community engagement report provides the methodology and more pictures. The Paraabd Instagram account has many photos and videos too. 

Paraa is a design and architecture studio in Bangladesh that takes a multi-disciplinary approach to design. Their vision is to create a commercially-sustainable architectural, design and planning practice.