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 Estateargues 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:
consult and engage citizens early in infrastructure planning
improve quality and access of citizen engagement at the strategic planning stages
use more sophisticated strategic planning tools and practices to improve decision-making
Applying 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
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.
“In this chapter, Rieger and Iantkow discuss socially sustainable design, especially its emphasis on universal and inclusive design. They present a history of thinking on accessible design in Alberta, which has moved toward greater inclusion. 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.”
Sustainability from an ergonomic perspective
The focus of sustainability has been on energy efficiency and all things “green”. But sustainability should have a broader context argues Erminia Attaianese. She claims that this narrow focus is paradoxical as maximising the building’s efficiency is not always maximising the comfort and efficiency of the building’s occupants.
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.