Poorly designed spaces limit the number of people who can use them – they might look great, but that is not enough. Everyone should benefit from great civic space. The American Society of Landscape Architects has a great guide to Parks and Plazas. The online guide includes good case studies and easy to follow tips. Here are a few of the points covered. See the online guide for the rest.
Connections to the street: Parks and plazas should meet the street at grade, ensuring that anyone can enter the space. When a grade change is needed, a choice of a ramp and steps creates a unified experience. Choose safe, slip resistant materials that are tactile and provide high contrast.
Clear identity:While maintaining a seamless entry from the street is important, creating a space separate from the street gives identity to the space. Trees can buffer noise and other sensory information from other areas.
Providing options: Public places serve many different groups of people, with differing needs. One solution is not going to accommodate everyone, but the scale of many public places creates room for spaces that give visitors different choices and opportunities.
Ease of access to restrooms: Bathrooms that are easy to locate allow families with children, people with disabilities, and older adults to readily use facilities that everyone needs. Placing bathrooms near streets and along major pathways of parks makes locating restrooms easier if the need arises. Clear and regular signage to toilets are an essential part of enjoying parks and plazas.
Compliance with legal requirements in public spaces is rarely enough to guarantee access for everyone. People with invisible disabilities are often left out of designs. A focus on technical aspects often results in spaces that are still challenging for many. The American Society of Landscape Architects has a Universal Design page where they list some of the disabilities and impairments regularly overlooked. For example, dementia, deafness, vision loss, and autism. The classic 7 Principles of Universal Design are re-jigged to suit landscape design:
Claremont College students from different disciplines joined the EnviroLab Asia 2019 Clinic Trip to Japan. A short video shows them checking out accessibility at Umeda train station and Ogimachi Park. The trip included time with Osaka Institute of Technology’s Robotics Department working on a project. They explored robotic technologies and universal design and created a model high tech recreational space for older people. The students conclude that barrier free places are not just for people with disability – it’s about including everyone.
Abstract:Studying Accessibility in Japan shows the research project led by Professor Angelina Chin (history, Pomona) with students who studied universal design and accessibility in Japan during the EnviroLab Asia 2019 Clinic Trip. The group also worked with the Osaka Institute of Technology’s Robotics Department.
Editor’s note: This is a video only publication – I couldn’t find any written material other than the abstract. The download button takes you to a high definition of the video, not a document. It is a very large file.
Chicago’s Brookfield Zoo applied the principles of universal design during upgrade and extension works. Changes to the entrance, maps and information, transportation within the park, toilets, benches, tables, and exhibit design and enhancement are explained in a case study. In addition, trained staff are on hand to provide additional help to visitors where needed. Mark Trieglaff explains universal design at the Zoo in his case study.
The improvements are matched to one or more of the seven principles of universal design. The conference paper concludes: “By incorporating the Principles of Universal Design all visitors are offered equal experiences as they interact with the animal, exhibits and each other. Without even realizing barriers have been removed, everyone, regardless of their abilities, has a more enjoyable and inclusive experience.”
Abstract. Universal Design in planning for exhibiting animal collections for the public has been a part of the culture of one particular zoo in the US. This paper looks at the steps in designing a zoological park that is universally accessible to all visitors.
The picture is of the South Gate entrance. The parking lot was made level with the kerb to provide a level entrance for all visitors during the upgrade.
Inclusive play spaces are receiving more attention, but what equipment and design features are most suitable? Research in the US throws some light on this topic. Children, parents, teachers, landscape designers and equipment manufacturers all have a stake in the outcome. This means there are often gaps between what is required, what is available and what gets implemented.
Schools and communities typically design and build playgrounds with little knowledge that the selected playground equipment meets the needs of children, caregivers, and teachers. In this article, the various categories of playgrounds are discussed and analyzed.
The focus of this discussion includes an overview of the legal requirements and guidelines for school and community playgrounds, a description of prior research highlighting the inadequacies in currently available playgrounds, and an explanation of the trends in playground design over the years.
We relate these topics to the need for universally designed playgrounds and a deeper commitment to designing playgrounds and play equipment that is empirically tested and meets the needs of all children, their teachers, and their families.
By discussing practical examples and research findings to illustrate the gap between playground manufacturers and their play equipment and playground consumers, this paper serves as a meaningful resource for teachers and other stakeholders so they have the knowledge to advocate for their students with disabilities in playground endeavors. Taking recent research findings into account, we provide a vision for playground policy change.
Public parks can work their magic only if they give what people they need. People use green spaces in cities in different ways depending on their community’s historical experience and cultural standards. Access to parks is strongly linked with better health outcomes so it is important to design them in context. But the mere existence of a park does not ensure a community benefits from it. We need to be designing parks that people use.
In an article for The Conversation, Thaisa Way covers the history of parks, importance of easy access and cultural relevance. Lots of links to research papers within the article titled: “Parks work for cities, but only if people use them”. And that is a question of design.
A study from Denmark shows that children like to be surrounded by green. The study used satellite data to show a link between growing up near green space and issues with mental health in adulthood. They found that children under 10 years who had greater access to green space may grow up to be happier adults. The article goes on to say that data was correlated between the child’s proximity to green space during childhood and that same person’s mental health later in life. The more green space they had access to, the less likely they were to have mental health issues later.
Access to play spaces can improve mental well-being as children grow up according to an article by Alice Covatta. She argues that there is a connection between lack of play and the rise of mental health conditions.
The way we design our urban areas has an impact on play in outdoor locations and this in turn either encourages or discourages play. The article expands on these concepts and uses case studies to highlight the issues and the solutions and introduce play as sustainable design. The article comes from the latest edition of Urban Design and Mental Health, which has several interesting articles.
NSW Government has published a guide to taking a universal design approach to play spaces, Everyone Can Play.
The design of parks and playgrounds are often considered from the perspective of children and younger adults. But what about older adults? An Australian study by Stephen Gibson looked at this issue and found that the motivations to visit parks differed between older and younger adults.
Natural environment, and park amenity was the strongest predictor of encouraging older adults to visit parks. The recommendation is that park design must be specific to older adults to entice and encourage them to visit. The title of the article in Landscape and Urban Planning is,” “Let’s go to the park.” An investigation of older adults in Australia and their motivations for park visitation”. You will need institutional access for a free read, or find a free read on ResearchGate.
Of course, taking the perspective of older adults does not exclude other age groups. Toilets, seating, shade, level footways, and wayfinding are good for everyone.
What motivates older adults to visit and use parks? Do older adults access parks for different reasons than younger adults? Prior studies determine age influences park visitation, but we know little about why. Older adults are particularly disadvantaged if their specific needs, preferences, or constraints in frequenting parks are not considered as lack of visitation and potential health decline result.
Referencing self-determination theory from the social psychology literature, this study focuses on fulfillment of autonomy, competence, and relatedness needs in older adults as a precursor to motivation for park visitation. To build deeper understanding of older adult motivation to visit and use parks, the study develops and tests a theoretical model of motivation for park visitation using quantitative methods to investigate psychological needs in the motivation to visit parks and elements of parks required to satisfy these needs.
Providing support for hypothesized relationships in the model, findings indicate that older adults differ from younger adults in the level and type of motivation to visit parks. Specifically, older adults are motivated to revisit parks that fulfill their autonomy needs. Natural environment, a common park amenity, was the strongest predictor of autonomy need fulfillment in older adults, followed by location elements of convenience and community. Finally, results indicated that when older adult autonomy needs are fulfilled, park revisitation is likely. Results confirm that park design must be specific to older adults to entice visitation.