How inclusive landscape architecture can improve accessibility in the built environment
Sweco author: Ellie Davies, Senior Landscape Architect
A truly accessible space is a space that recognises and accommodates the differences in the way in which people use the built environment. This changes throughout a person’s lifetime and across every background including gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, culture, abilities, and disabilities. Apart from enabling physical accessibility, other benefits to an inclusive design approach include economic, health, wellbeing and social cohesion.
At Sweco, we strive to provide public spaces that can be equitably, intuitively, and confidently used by all without physical or social separation. As landscape architecture consultants we have a unique role in the design of the external environment, seeking to bring diverse groups of people together within the public realm. Here, Senior Landscape Architect Ellie Davies reflects on how a holistic, people-centric approach to design and planning can promote accessibility.
Sweco’s approach to accessibility-focused Landscape Architecture is based on recommendations from the Landscape Institute’s Inclusive Design Technical Guidance Note 03/2019 and the Design Council’s Inclusive Environment’s programme. Accessible design involves a broad range of stakeholders and multidisciplinary teams as a people first process across the lifespan of a project. Based on the above technical guidance, we constantly return to a number of imperative considerations throughout a project lifecycle…
It is key to understand where the project sits within the geographic context of the wider transport/journey network to ensure that the accessibility chain from front door to destination is unbroken and journey experience can be improved. Providing journeys that are less challenging, more interesting and have landmarks are easier to navigate, encouraging people to use active travel modes that improve health, well-being and mobility.
The public realm is used by everyone, but that does not mean all places have the same distribution of user groups. Analysis of the social context including census data, surrounding buildings and land use informs stakeholder engagement and consideration of the potential barriers to access encountered by local communities. Undertaking stakeholder mapping can help ensure the right voices are consulted at the right stage.
If we don’t understand the environment’s users and their needs, we can’t develop a design that is truly inclusive therefore consultation is key. Good engagement ensures information is accessible to all when developing communication material and distribution of information. Different types of engagement can be appropriate at different stages of a project. Inclusive engagement should provide particular focus on those who are likely to be overlooked or whose views are less likely to be accommodated. Engagement should have a purpose be proportionate in terms of time and resources, targeted, informative and provide feedback.
From the outset of a project, an understanding of the legal risks associated with inclusive environments is key. A vision to go above and beyond mere compliance with legislation can be promoted through the encouragement of inclusivity design champions and preparation of an inclusive design strategy to be consulted upon with appropriate stakeholders. Site appraisals and access audits identify constraints as part of a feasibility study.
Will your next project…
- Create more stimulating streetscapes with regular landmarks make journeys more memorable and easier to navigate?
- Map out direct, legible routes that are easy to use?
- Include plenty of seating opportunities for resting on a journey?
- Include carefully selected street furniture to provide contrast assisting those who are visually impaired?
- Reduce street clutter and carefully locate street furniture zones to reduce unnecessary obstructions to assist those who are visually impaired?
- Offer a choice of routes for different users without needless segregation?
- Ensure all signage and wayfinding is accessible as well as aesthetic?
- Consider the use of tonal/colour contrast on paving to help navigation rather than causing confusion for people with poor sight or dementia?
- Take steps to alleviate the effects of topography?
- Ensure natural surveillance?
- Promote (well-signed) access to drinking water and toilets;
- Consider varied activities and configurations of seating / equipment to provide inclusive spaces for all genders and abilities to engage in outdoor exercise?
- Create dedicated places of calm for physical rest and mental wellbeing?
At the design stage it is useful to establish and consult early with a user/access group based on those consulted at the vision stage. Specialist access consultants or an Access Officer can provide reviews at all key stages. Clients should be made aware of legal risks if design compromises have to be made and regular reviews should be undertaken of the design focused on inclusive environments.
A structured ‘walk through’ at key points in the construction phase is helpful to ensure that potential issues in the design have not been overlooked and detailing doesn’t create issues.
Management and maintenance plans are developed to ensure that inclusivity objectives are not eroded over time. These must be reviewed at regular intervals in consultation with current and potential future user groups.
With a truly multi-disciplinary network of consultancy and engineering expertise, our landscape architects can support you throughout your project, offering a complete range of planning, design and management solutions. To discuss your next project, or get support on making an existing space more accessible, contact Ellie below.