Cities for all: Why inclusivity matters to planners
By Francesca Perry
14 June 2017
Photo courtesy Atlas Lens
Much like “sustainable” and “resilient,” “inclusive” has become a buzzword in planning. The UN’s New Urban Agenda, agreed to at the Habitat III Conference last October, commits to addressing global inequality through inclusive urbanism. Similar to a new year’s resolution list, the agenda paints a utopian picture – but as we well know, the reality can fall short. Without rigorous implementation, each member state can interpret inclusivity in their own way. So what should it look like, and why should planners pay attention to it?
“Accessible, inclusive cities allow everyone to participate equally,” says College of Environmental Design alumnus Dr. Victor Pineda (MCP ‘06), president of disability rights organization World Enabled, UC Berkeley Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow, and former lecturer in the Department of City & Regional Planning.
As an expert on disability rights, policy, and planning, Pineda established the Global Network for Disability-Inclusive and Accessible Urban Development, mobilizing 130 organizations to lobby UN members for explicit commitments on accessibility. The built environment can be enabling or restrictive. Some 15 percent of the global population lives with a disability and the world is not fully accessible.
“Cities often burden people who have difficulties walking, hearing, seeing or remembering, [and prevent them] from participating equally in public life,” says Pineda. “The problem is not with the person, but with the way the environment is designed. Planners must engage with a diverse set of people with disabilities – and there should be a strong commitment to universal design as well as robust enforcement and monitoring mechanisms.”
But inclusion is more than just access. An inclusive place ensures that all people – regardless of age, race, faith, ability, income, gender or sexual orientation – are catered to, and their rights respected. It is a flexible place with safe and accessible healthy public spaces, widespread and affordable public transport, adequate play provision, safe space for cyclists and pedestrians, walkable neighbourhoods, wheelchair and buggy-accessible public realm, public seating, gender-neutral public toilets, visual and aural navigation for those who are blind and deaf or have dementia. It is mixed-tenure development, affordable housing, and community facilities that respond to a diversity of needs. It is a place where design takes well-being and mental health into account, and where socialising is encouraged.
Some groups can feel more excluded from the built environment than others, so planners need to think about how to include these more vulnerable populations. Socially marginalised migrants and homeless people often experience disproportionate difficulties accessing basic services and housing.
“Our built environment is shaped by our social values, so our cities are the physical manifestations of our values,” says Pineda. “If we value diversity, if we value all human beings equally, then we will build our cities in a way that reflects these values.”