Implementing universal design in public places

What and where are the problems when it comes to implementing universal design in public places? Three Swedish researchers decided to find out. The first step is to consider all the actors that have a role in creating public places and spaces. They all make choices based on particular strategies. Then there are inherent conditions: topography, the space itself, time pressures, cost, and materials. Each one of these can impact how different people might use and design the environment.

How buildings, walkways and public places are designed is based on choices and strategies, affected by laws and policies, but also by the practitioners’ knowledge and experiences.

A fish market in Sweden.   Implementing universal design.

Knowledge of universal design is still limited among practitioners and even then, it is not understood in the same way. Perceptions that universal design is about access compliance further complicates matters. So how to change the mindset of practitioners? This is where the concept of diversity comes in. Old thought patterns of deviating from the norm have to be discarded as practitioners think of population diversity.

Aim of the study

The aim of the study was to identify the choices practitioners made during the urban development process. And then to find out what they need to better support the implementation of universal design. They used qualitative methods to find out and a quantitative analysis of the findings. The findings are presented in three sections:

  1. Critical choices and aspects – informal decisions also impact final result.
  2. Conflicting visions, goals and interests between departments and public and private actors.
  3. Critical recourses – supports and tools stakeholders need
aerial view of three people at a desk looking at a set of construction drawings

The paper concludes with 7 recommendations based on their findings.

The title of the paper is, Visions of a City for All. Resources, Choices and Factors Supporting and Impeding Universal Design in the Urban Development Process. It is a well written and clear paper. It has important information for all the stakeholders in urban design processes.

From the abstract

Despite laws, policies and visions to create cities and societies for all, barriers still exclude persons with disabilities from using buildings and public places. Our study aimed to identify choices made during the urban development process that include or exclude users in the built environment; how and when these choices arise during the process; and what is needed to implement universal design (UD) as a strategy and tool to secure all users equal opportunities in the built environment.

The study involved employees and private actors in city development processes. Four workshops were followed by qualitative interviews with key players. The analysis was based on qualitative data from workshops and interviews.

Aspects impeding and supporting UD and conflicting visions and goals were identified in all phases, as well as the need for tools to implement UD. The findings show that accessibility for all users is dealt with (too) late in the process, often giving rise to special solutions.

The findings also show how UD appears more clearly in remodelling projects than in new constructions. A strong vision from the start to build for all users clearly supports UD throughout the process. Other factors such as pre-studies that include human diversity, allocation of resources and experts’ early opinions also prove to be clear drivers for UD.

Overall, the findings reveal a demand for solutions that can maintain early visions and goals throughout the processes. We conclude by providing seven recommendations for addressing these challenges.

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