Planners can play a leadership role

Aerial view of Tongva Park showing accessible walkways throughout.
Tongva Park is universally designed

Post-COVID infrastructure projects are injecting life into economies around the world. So this is an opportune time to infuse universal design into all construction projects. Planners can play a leadership role in taking a universal design approach. But how will planners take the lead if it is not being taught?

An article in the American Planning Association online magazine, Viewpoint, challenges educators to get up to speed with universal design. The author says it is time for justice in the built environment, and universal design is the way to go. However, designers have not embraced this concept. But perhaps the momentum is shifting. 

 Designing for Disability Justice. an essay published by the Harvard Design School, discusses the issues. Access standards are a barrier to design – they limit imagination. It’s more about completing a checklist and offsetting liability than design. Then it’s seen as limiting design and something to be tacked on. A change in thinking is needed so that universal design is tackled as a challenge not a chore.

The title of the article is, Why Planning Education Should Embrace Universal Design. The author concludes,

“Some of the strongest forces on earth — economics, policy, politics, and a pandemic — will change the way we plan for the rest of the century. … formally teaching Universal Design at the university and professional certificate level is one of the best ways to guarantee that good planning rises organically from the diverse and unique needs of end users.” 

Non-disabled planners and designers are yet to understand that they are designing for their future selves. One day, they will need universal design. By then it will be too late. The time to act is now.