Sea Change or Urban Uplift?

long view of a Perth city mall with shops and cafes under awnings and trees for shade. Tall buildings are in the backgroundWhile some retirees will seek a sea change to resort-style living, others want to stay connected to their families and established neighbourhoods. Some might even be thinking about planning renovations to make staying put easier. A place in the country sounds ideal, but is it the right choice?

An article in Aged Care Insite critiques the age-restricted model of villages. It asks if this is a sustainable model into the future. The article was written in 2018 and shows foresight given today’s issues with aged care. Many of the current issues are discussed and the author, Susan Mathews questions if this is the right way forward. 

Mathews proposes alternatives, one of which is flexibility of design across the housing market so that people can receive care at home when it is needed. This fits with the principles of universal design as outlined in the Livable Housing Design Guidelines at Gold level. Other key points are inter-generational interaction, connectivity, inclusion, and proximity to conveniences. A good article  from an architect’s perspective. The title of the article is Aged Care in the urban context: what’s missing?  

Universal design in housing: The time has come

House half built showing timber framework. Universal design in housing. The time has come.Time has come for the housing industry to catch up with the rest of society. Inclusion and diversity are now recognised as Australian values. Discrimination still exists of course, but many sectors, business and government, are striving to do better. That means designing products and services to embrace population diversity. However, the housing industry continues to resist change. They say it will substantially increase the cost of building a home. But how much is “substantially”.

Smaller building firms have shown that for a maximum of $3000 they can deliver universally designed homes. That’s because they thought of the design from the outset. They have changed the cookie cutter shape.

One of the reasons the housing industry says it will cost more is because level entry is difficult to achieve on a steep slope. This can be true, but that is no reason for no change at all. Exceptions would be made for one-off situations. Besides, mass market housing in a greenfield site is rarely on a steep slope – these are not favoured by developers. That’s because it cuts down on building efficiency. But any excavation needed benefits builders too.

The evidence

Two eminent economists responded to the call to comment on the draft changes and have concluded that benefits outweigh the costs. Dense reading but the document challenges the ABCB analysis at every point. They also conclude that Gold level of the Livable Housing Design Guidelines are not only beneficial to the community but they offer the best value overall. 

Australia Cannot Afford NOT to Build Accessible Homes, gives an overview of why we must mandate universal design features now. We’ve had ten years for Livable Housing Australia to show that it can do this voluntarily. It has failed. It’s time for them to come good.

For the history of nearly 20 years of advocacy see Universal Housing Design in Australia: Getting to Yes.

 

Tomorrow’s Homes: A sustainability perspective

Tomorrows Homes front coverUniversal design in housing faces the same policy and industry challenges as the sustainability movement. Consumers are unclear about their choice, and confused by terminology and rating systems. Home builders are locked into supply chains that limit innovation, and financial institutions can’t see the value of such designs. 

The Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council (ASBEC) has devised a policy framework for transitioning to sustainable homes. It identifies five key actions:

    1. National leadership
    2. Benchmarking and upskilling
    3. Building a foundation of leading homes
    4. Engaging consumers
    5. Leveraging finance

Tomorrow’s homes: A policy framework outlines how the structure of the housing industry creates restrictions on doing anything differently. It also has suggestions for appealing to consumers by using language they relate to. Comfortable, healthy, affordable, easy to use – in short, appealing to their aspirations. Consumers don’t frame their aspirations in words such as sustainable, accessible, or universal design. And they don’t aspire to ageing or disability.

The document concludes with a call for home builders to engage in the sustainable housing market now rather than wait for regulation. However, a voluntary approach hasn’t turned out well for accessible housing. 

Anyone interested in the housing market and housing policy will find this a useful document. Easy to read and well laid out it argues the case for policy reform in housing design. 

For a crash course in housing policy, sign up to CUDA’s free housing policy online learning: Home Coming? Framing housing policy for the future

Housing, Health and Accessibility

Multi coloured graphic depicting the key elements in the guidelines "How housing can improve health and well-being".There are five key areas for healthy housing and accessibility is one of them. The WHO guidelines on housing and health and accessibility takes into consideration ageing populations and people with functional impairments. It recommends an “adequate proportion of housing stock should be accessible.

In the remarks section it argues that living in an accessible home improves both independence and health outcomes. Although the guidelines argue for a proportion of housing stock it has put the issue on the agenda. It shows it is as important as all other factors. However, the notion of proportion can lead some agencies to think that means specialised and segregated housing. It is worth noting that the lead author of this section is an Australian, Professor Peter Phibbs.

The other key areas are crowding, indoor cold, indoor heat, and home safety. For more detail there is an additional document showing method and results of the systematic review that underpinned this section of the Guidelines – Web Annex F. and includes interventions such as home modifications and assistive technology. 

The Healthy Home

View of the website landing page for Healthy Home Guide.Joining the dots between all aspects of physical and social sustainability is important for a healthy life and a healthy planet. Central to this is the design of our homes. The Healthy Housing Design Guide from New Zealand says they need to be durable, efficient in size and cost, and friendly to the occupants and the environment.

The three bar menu icon on the landing page of this online resource takes you to the content of the Guide. Universal Design leads in the table of contents. This is pleasing as most other guides leave it to a last thought at the end. The design detail features wheelchair users for circulation spaces, which, of course are good for everyone. Among the interesting images is a lower storage draw doubling as a step for child to reach the kitchen bench. The case studies focus on energy efficiency and sustainability.

This is a comprehensive document starting with universal design, site and location, through to air quality and acoustics and ending with certifications. The Guide characterises a healthy home by the acronym HEROES:

      • Healthy: Promoting optimal health and wellbeing through its design, resilience, and efficiency.
      • Efficient: Size and space, affordable and energy positive for the life of the building.
      • Resilient: Resilient enough to withstand earthquakes and climatic conditions. Durable to stand the test of time.
      • On purpose:  Designed specifically with Heroes in mind and fit for purpose.
      • Environmental: Socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable to build and run. Considerate of Climate Change.
      • Sustainable: Meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

The style of the website is pleasing but the landing page gives little idea to navigation. It says “Welcome” and then asks visitors to stay super involved. There is a bar with an arrow to go to the Foreword. The navigation is via the three bar menu icon at the top left of the page. 

The video from the launch of the guide takes you through the content. Universal Design gets a mention at the 25 minute mark. It is introduced by Henry McTavish.

Housing aspirations of older Australians

An armchair is by a big window in a high rise building. Through the window you can see the tops of other buildings in the distance.Three bedrooms and urban living are what most older people want. These are two of the key findings in a new Australian report from AHURI. Age specific housing is not a preference. So researchers suggest more innovation to attract the older cohort so they can age in place after all. There was no mention the need to have homes already designed to suit so that age-specific housing doesn’t become the “no choice” option. This report is written with the property industry in mind. There was only a brief mention of homes being adaptable. 

The title of the research paper is, Older Australians and the housing aspirations gap. There are three separate documents: an Executive Summary and a Policy Evidence Summary. The full report is also available from the AHURI website.

Editor’s Comment: These research projects can take two years to complete. Consequently the action by the Australian Building Codes Board on Accessible Housing was not factored into the policy recommendations. One key point in the report is one that challenges the housing industry’s claim that “if they ask for it we will build it”. Older people are not even thinking of asking for it. Hence, regulations for both supply and demand sides of the market would be best all round. 

 

Apartment design audit without UD

Three shiny blue apartment towers rise into the sky.Health and wellbeing is the focus of an audit report of Australian state and territory apartment design guidelines. There is a passing mention about universal design and residential mobility at the end. These are considered indirect factors for wellbeing that might be worth researching at another time. There is a comparison chart of the similarities and differences between state and territory policies and guidelines. Many of these include universal design and accessibility, but these factors were not picked up in the comparison chart. The nationally recognised Livable Housing Design Guidelines were not referenced even though they also support health and wellbeing. This is an open access report and should be of interest to anyone in the residential housing sector. It is good to see there is a focus on quality of design.

The title of the paper is, The high life: A policy audit of apartment design guidelines and their potential to promote residents’ health and wellbeing

From the conclusions: “Finally, this audit focused on specific design themes known to impact health, however other design features also contribute to the experience of apartment living (e.g., storage, car/bike parking, lighting, universal design). While these features might not directly impact on health and wellbeing, they nonetheless contribute to the ease of long-term apartment living, and many policies include standards for such features. Given the evidence that apartment and neighbourhood satisfaction can reduce residential mobility and enhance mental health (Giles-Corti et al., 2012), these indirect factors may be worthy of investigation in future studies.”

Editor’s Comment: Given we have population ageing and housing demands by people who are NOT on the NDIS, I should have thought universal design and accessibility are essential to health and wellbeing. There is nothing healthy about not being able to get out of your home or being able to visit your family. The building code requires disability access into apartment buildings and public space, but not inside the dwellings – which is where universal design comes into play.

Barriers to Universal Design in Australian Housing

A single storey home has few barriers to universal design in housing.From the Editor: I prepared a 2000 word version of my PhD thesis for easier reading. The title is Barriers to Universal Design in Australian Housing. I wanted to find out what the barriers are and if we could do something about it. 

The simple answer is that the industry runs on regulations to hold the house building system together. So nothing will change without regulation. Outdated ideas about market segmentation, general resistance to change, and risk avoidance are key issues. Cost was cited most often as a barrier, but without any evidence of the costs.  

A line of complex manufacturing machinery used to show the complex process and number of stakeholders involved in mass market housing.

 

The graphic shows that the house building industry is a system with several stakeholders. This system relies on everyone doing the same thing in the same way. The best way to achieve this is through regulation.

 

Read the conference paper to find out more about the complexities of the house building industry and why there is resistance to change from both builders and purchasers. You can also download the accompanying slide show from the 2011 FICCDAT conference.

The full thesis is available from the Western Sydney University archives. I did my best to make it as readable as possible within the constraints of academic writing.

Jane Bringolf

(FICCDAT is, Festival of International Conferences on Caring, Disability, Aging and Technology.)

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