Is urban design engaging with senior Australians?

urban design and seniorsFor anyone looking at innovative ways in which the urban design profession in Australia can engage with senior residents about how our urban environment may or may not be meeting their needs, the approach taken with regard to the upgrade of Crown Street in Sydney’s Surry Hills a couple of years ago is a wonderful example as reported by Andrew Heaton.

Prior to the redevelopment, volunteer residents of a range of ages and movement abilities conducted a ‘walk and talk’ audit of the existing environment, during which they walked around and talked into an iPad application developed by the University of New South Wales about the features they either liked or disliked. Video and audio input was then uploaded into a database from which a map was subsequently produced showing the location of each of the objects audited in question and whether or not these were beneficial or detrimental to the quality of the environment from the volunteers’ perspectives.

Thanks partly to feedback from this exercise, the upgrade included a number of improvements which were in part aimed at improving universal access, including wider footpaths  a raised footpath crossing, new lighting and street furniture, more greenery and the consolidation of two bus stops into one for better pedestrian access. A second audit, performed after the upgrade was finished, indicated that the environment had been significantly improved.

Given current demographic shifts, the importance of ensuring that our urban environments are friendly to older and less mobile residents cannot be understated. As of 2015, according to the Intergenerational Report released last year, Australia had around 3.1 million people aged between 65 and 84 and 500,000 people aged 85 or above. By 2055, these numbers will have risen to 7.0 million and 2.0 million respectively.

As well as leading to better practical outcomes, moreover, genuine engagement provides our senior community with a sense of empowerment in terms of having input into their surrounding environment as opposed to having design solutions thrust upon them.

Unfortunately, however, approaches such as that outlined above are not commonplace. Indeed, according to Dr Catherine Bridge, an associate professor of the built environment faculty of the University of NSW and director of the university’s Enabling Built Environment Research Program, current practices in this area vary in terms of effectiveness.

As Australia ages, the importance of engaging senior members of our population about their urban environment needs is becoming more important. To read more click here.

The 9th International Urban Design Conference; Smart Cities for 21st Century Australia – How urban design innovation can change our cities  will be held at Hyatt Canberra from 7th-8th November 2016 with optional tours available on Wednesday 9th November.

Registrations are now open. CLICK HERE to register for the Conference. Early bird closes 26th September 2016 so be quick to receive a discounted rate.

This years’ theme, will focus on an understanding of what makes a city ‘smart’ from a urban design perspective and how the built environment develops during the city planning process.

Authors or organisations interested in presenting at the 9th International Urban Design Conference are invited to submit an abstract. To submit an abstract CLICK HERE. Abstracts close 25th July 2016.

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