Planning Inclusively: Make Communities Just for All

View from high building in Brisbane overlooking building roofs and the Brisbane river and bridges. Jacaranda trees can be seen in the street.Urban planning is a highly contested and politicised area to work in. The talk is that planning is about people, not roads and buildings. But when do users – people – get a say in planning? Only at the end when plans are put on exhibition. Then you need to be an expert to understand them. Planning inclusively is to make communities just for all. 

Lisa Stafford, in a briefing paper, asks how well do we consider human diversity in planning cities and regions?  Planners and bureaucrats would rarely even consider the concept of “Ableism” in their designs. That’s why we still have marginalisation by design. The lens of the average or the “normal” person is rarely put aside for a lens of diversity. 

Graphic with four circles: one each for exclusion, separation, integration and inclusion.Social planning can drive inclusive communities because it operates from a justice framework. Participatory planning is one way to work towards inclusion. 

The tile of Lisa Stafford’s paper is, Planning Inclusively: Disrupting ‘Ableism’ to Make Communities Just for All.  She has four recommendations at the end of her easy to read paper. Briefly they are:

      1. Adopt an approach of planning for all
      2. Apply spatial justice thinking to planning
      3. Embed universal design as a core planning principle
      4. Re-emphasise the social in planning

Editorial Introduction 

“Disabled people continue to experience exclusion by design in our everyday spaces, infrastructure and services, which has been magnified through the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, more than ever, there is an opportunity for urban and regional planning practitioners, researchers and disabled people to come together to advocate for and create inclusive, sustainable communities for all. However, to make this transformative, we must first critically question how well do we really consider human diversity in planning cities, towns and regions? This question is examined in this briefing paper by contesting entrenched challenges like ‘ableism’ before providing fundamental starting points for planners in planning more inclusive and just communities for all.”

Universally designed infrastructure planning

An aerial view of a new highway junction with overpasses.One of the underpinning tenets of universal design is to involve users in the design process – at the beginning. Involving citizens in early stages of design can avoid costly retrofits, but more importantly, it is more likely to give people what they want. That means they are more likely to use it. Transport planning can also be universally designed. An article in The Fifth Estate argues that to leave out citizens is asking for trouble, and it is also undemocratic. Infrastructure is a public thing regarless of  who owns it, runs it or controls it. It is about good city governance. Planners need to do three things:

  1. consult and engage citizens early in infrastructure planning
  2. improve quality and access of citizen engagement at the strategic planning stages
  3. use more sophisticated strategic planning tools and practices to improve decision-making

The original article was in The Conversation. 

Can universal design create social sustainability?

aerial view of a big city with skyscrapersApplying the principles of universal design at the formation stage of planning can lead to harmonious, accessible, sustainable and healthy cities. This is the conclusion of a European study.

The study looked at the design and development of city space from the perspective of the varying levels of human capabilities. The overall aim of the research was to raise the quality of urban planning, and to develop tools for healthy cities compatible with the principles of sustainability. You can download the PDF of Sustainable Urban Development: Spatial Analyses as Novel Tools for Planning a Universally Designed City, by Joanna Borowczyk.

Forgotten social sustainability 

Downtown Calgary showing a pedestrian mall with tall buildings on each side. The sun is shining.When it comes to sustainability, how many people think about social sustainability as well? Environments and people are inter-linked. The Sustainable Development Goals make this clear and one unifying factor is universal design. A new book chapter investigates the issues further. 

The title of the chapter is, Forgotten sustainability: A socially conscious paradigmatic shift in design. The title of the book is Situating Design in Alberta. You can request a copy of the chapter from the authors who are from Queensland University of Technology. The webpage has this synopsis:

“In this chapter, Rieger and Iantkow discuss socially sustainable design, especially its emphasis on universal and inclusive design. They argue that social sustainability is often left out of sustainability discussions, but that there has been a history of this work in Alberta. They present a history of thinking on accessible design in Alberta, which has moved toward greater inclusion and a greater recognition and response toward complexities and paradoxes in human needs. They also explain the incorporation of these concepts in design education and a greater social consciousness toward the need for accessibility. However, they stress that this isn’t enough.

Local environments aren’t adequately accessible, which will become increasingly clear with the aging population. Like many other authors in this anthology, Rieger and Iantkow discuss local mind-sets toward design. They note that Albertans are becoming increasingly aware of accessibility issues and expect accessible environments, but that this could go even further. It is also important to encourage the population to adopt new ways of understanding the built environment and demand innovation and forward thinking in design.”

The compassionate city

A brick terrace house fronts the footpath and has lots of pot plants in front of it.The Dutch idea of the Woonerf has been picked up again, this time by Jenny Donovan of La Trobe University. Using some graphics, she shows how design can affect our decisions to either walk, drive, use public transport or not, and whether you feel welcome in the environment. She covers the key elements of a Compassionate City where various design elements can meet the needs of a range of people and create more harmonious behaviours. There are several links in the article to other related reports and articles. The article originates from The Conversation.  

Hobsons Bay Universal Design Policy Statement

Three circles in blue sitting inside one another. Centre light blue is minimum BCA compliance. Next circle is extension for Australian Standards, and third all embracing circle is for universal design.
Graphic from the Universal Design Policy Statement

Hobsons Bay City Council is situated south-west of Melbourne with a significant stretch of coastal area. As with many local councils in Victoria they are keen to embrace the principles of universal design in their planning policies. As part of their access and inclusion strategy they plan to implement universal design principles in new buildings, buildings with significant upgrades, retrofits of existing buildings, features and public open space. They started with a Hobsons Bay Universal Design Policy Statement.

The policy statement includes a table where the 7 classic principles of universal design are translated into specific guidelines for council staff. The policy statement discusses the myths, regulatory framework and how to implement universal design, and how to go beyond compliance. 

A short document and a good template for other councils to use. Policy statements don’t need to be long and wordy. This one gets to the point.