Creating an accessible space is a universal requirement for sustainable living in the long run.
This goal is why everyone involved in city design and development is busy thinking of ways to design a safe and inclusive urban community for every member of society. For example, since the early ’90s, civic governments have implemented the curb-cuts in public areas and along sidewalks.
These inclusions regulate the design of the pathway to provide easy access to one and all and made evident how a small construction detail, enhanced the role sidewalks play in accessible urban design.
We would like this brief article to be used by planners, designers and suburban developers as a reminder of how important it is to create an innovative and universal design. But also, to highlight the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic on urban design and architecture, using the basic concept of the curb-cut established by the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and its role in accessibility.
What is the ADA, accessibility and curb-cuts?
Signed by President George H.W. Bush on July 26, 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law that celebrates “equal opportunity.” It prohibits discrimination, guaranteeing equal opportunities, and rights to citizens with disabilities.
And ever since its enactment, architects, planners, and designers have been incorporating features to help impaired individuals access spaces without restrictions, by putting themselves in the shoes of these citizens while designing both indoor and outdoor spaces to fulfill the requirements of the law.
This is one of the reasons why you find modest curb-cuts at street corners in cities all around the world. The regulated design comprising an inclined plane in place of a step down ensures ease of use for those on wheelchairs. However, it needs to be shallow enough for safe passage, especially when travelling alone.
The ultimate goal of this act was to help specially challenged individuals make use of their surroundings without any assistance. For this, the design and features of the space had to be equitable and easy to use, to promote lower physical effort and improved flexibility.
However, accessibility doesn’t only pertain to those individuals with disabilities. Seeing the current scenario implemented due to the sudden onset of the Coronavirus pandemic, it’s equally important to create public spaces accessible to every member of society.
That’s why we think it’s crucial to highlight the need for not just accessible measures but also a universal and innovative design for safely exploring outdoors amidst the pandemic. The best part is that the designs created to provide accessible spaces to impaired citizens benefit a larger user group, something referred to as the “curb-cut effect.”
Creating a universally accessible design
The elderly, mothers with strollers, kids - everyone makes the most of universal and innovative designs that promote the concept of “walkability.” Curb-cuts are common in areas with foot traffic, also allowing people with bikes easy access to the streets while crossing the road.
In other words, curb-cuts today are universal inclusions, which are no longer just used by individuals on wheelchairs to move freely around the cities. It’s a step forward towards accessible design, and as planners and designers, we need to recognize the importance of the tool to focus more on small urban interventions.
For the last decade, planners and designers at the Nadi Group have dedicated themselves to enhancing the quality of the communities we design, through seamless connections and constant flow of pedestrian and active transportation pathways.
The impact of COVID-19 on accessibility
Pretty sure we all agree that 2020 has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride. But every cloud has a silver lining; all you have to do is look for it. And in our opinion, the one positive outcome of the year is that it helped everyone realize the importance of enjoying outdoor spaces.
After being in quarantine for months, users and designers started re-thinking how public spaces are used, especially while social distancing.
Nowadays, we recognize the increasing need for accessible streets and sidewalks to shape contemporary landscapes. As we see sidewalks expanded to make room for outdoor restaurant seating, and streets temporarily repurposed to provide opportunities for social interaction while complying with the new rules of social distancing.
Hence, greater emphasis is now laid on the size of sidewalks, terraces, balconies, and parks to create spaces accessible to all.
Summing it up
One of our primary focus through this article is to help suburban developers understand the favourable impact of accessibility on public space design when thinking of a new community and traffic flow for pedestrians.
As designers and planners, we dedicate our efforts to creating quality spaces, embracing the principles of accessibility and innovation as key components of the design process. Through a resilient and safe urban design, we promise to offer sustainable living to all ages and groups of the population, including specially challenged individuals.
The Nadi Group highlights the use of design tools like the curb-cut, wayfinding and traffic calming features, that also allow a safe and continuous traffic flow throughout the communities we design, either new or adapting an existing built environment.
We have committed to going a step ahead in the evolution of these methods. We will create newer developments that promote visitable housing, with features that make the main level accessible to everyone though lower entry thresholds (no steps or ramps), generously wide main-floor hallways and accessible main-floor bathrooms.
So next time you go for a walk around your community, or if you are thinking of developing one, think about the -tiny- urban details that can make a difference in everyone’s commuting experience. Those are a step in the right direction to universal design for all that will benefit not only this but also, future generations.