Accessibility of Open Spaces

Planning Dated:  Nov. 6, 2015
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Green as an aesthetic

In the last decade, there has been an ever increasing importance of urban open spaces in city developments due to the expanding urban character. One of the greatest cultural aspects of a society, the height of a society is expressed by the level of developing and maintaining of their open spaces. Street greenery, parks and open spots determine the identity of a city. By enhancing the quality and accessibility of open spaces, we can accentuate appeal for the residents and tourists. This might increase its value and importance.

The prime factors behind the growth of any city or settled area are the tenacious movement, migration, replacement, and demographic instabilities of the residents. Many aspects of the modern life are probably not as mundane and turbulent as they appear to be at a glance. They might be the result of an age old long cultural and historic process.

Yards ParkFigure 1 - Yards Park, Urban Open Space
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Green provides a limbic aesthetic1. The longing for ‘nature’ is a problem of the urban environment because of its relative distance from green. Parks are important within an urban space as they can substantially improve the feeling of well-being in the residents.

Green as an aestheticFigure 2 - Green as an aesthetic
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The philosopher Ernst Bloch defined this distance from nature of a city, the reduction of the elements like wind, water, meadows, woods and air as an -

“Artificial desert, which in the form of a city of the 19th or 20th century interrupts the landscape.”

In the process of the growth in cities, there has been this touch of deurbanization that has been a big factor of influence. While passing through this period, the well-to-do residents have been moving away from the densely built up and congested areas to the more peaceful, cleaner, healthier environments and sparse settlements, namely the garden cities. Thus, the abandoned building stock of the cities and the cheater accommodations were taken up by them, the less affluent residents. This left the areas with higher population density as the ones void of quality open spaces.

There have been varied reasons for the existence of open areas in urban environments. While some open spaces are branchouts or relics of particular settling processes, others are just because it was always impossible to build on them. Other than these, there are spots that were consciously laid out as open spaces. These types can be classified into:

  • Natural open spaces
  • Prestige open spaces
  • Spaces for recreation and relaxation
  • Spaces for specific uses

Parks in any environment play an important role in maintaining and improving the microclimate and ecological balance of the area. We often associate ourselves with the hypothesis that open green spaces development can accentuate the appreciation of the surrounding property. This is a huge reason to promote the development of greenways, open spaces and green belts in urban settlements and otherwise too. These could be important elements that mark the city and its landscape as well as act as landmarks.

Park as a cultural asset

W. Huber said: ‘Culture is generated by ethics, logic and aesthetics

Culture is not a natural phenomenon, but has been consciously staged by humans. It has
evolved over time with the growth of various aspects in humans.

Westview Culture DayFigure 3 - Westview Culture Day
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Parks and open spaces have thus, since eternity, been spots of public gathering and
association, celebrations and meetings, and relaxation and fitness programmes.

Parks as centres of urban space developments

The Urban Regeneration Model of Barcelona is a perfect example for all big cities regarding to both open space developments and complex urban renewals unto this day. It demonstrates the opportunities inherent to the collaboration between the city leaders and developers/investors by its extraordinary success.

The leaders of the Spanish city (location of the Olympic Games in 1992) initiated the complex renewal of the city in the early 1980s to put an end to the suburban processes and reduce the uncontrolled sprawl.

  • The urban renewal processes started with the creation and regeneration of streets, parks and greater green areas, starting in the year 1980.
  • The second stage, 1986 onwards, is featured by greater rehabilitation projects, as under the influence of the Olympic Games. The coast, the residential and recreational areas of the city were renewed and rehabilitated at this time.
  • The infrastructural and strategic areas were rebuilt and renewed during the third stage, from the year 1992, of the Urban Regeneration Program. Lots of huge public spaces were born by the new functions of these areas.

Variations in the features on the basis of socioeconomic differences

There was a study in Melbourne, Australia to examine the relations between neighbourhood socio-economic status and features of public open spaces (POS) hypothesised to influence children's physical activity. Data were from the first follow-up of the Children Living in Active Neighbourhoods (CLAN) Study, which involved 540 families of 5–6 and 10–12-year-old children.

The Open Space 2002 spatial data set was used to identify all public open spaces within an 800m radius of each participant's home and the features of each of these open spaces (1497) were audited. Variability of open space features was examined across the neighbourhood.

  • Compared with open spaces in lower socioeconomic neighbourhoods, such spaces in the higher socioeconomic neighbourhoods had more amenities (e.g. picnic tables and drink fountains).
  • They were more likely to have trees that provided shade, a water feature (e.g. pond, creek), walking and cycling paths, lighting, signage regarding dog access and signage restricting other activities.
  • There were no differences across neighbourhoods in the number of playgrounds or the number of recreation facilities (e.g. number of sports catered for on courts and ovals, the presence of other facilities such as athletics tracks, skateboarding facility and swimming pool).

Concluding, this study suggests that open spaces in high socioeconomic neighbourhoods possess more features that are likely to promote more physical activity amongst children, which does not necessarily determine them as more fit, neither physically nor mentally.

Accessibility refers to the design of products, devices, services, or environments for people with disabilities. The concept of accessible design ensures both "direct access" (i.e. unassisted) and "indirect access" meaning compatibility with a person's assistive technology.2

Accessibility is strongly related to universal design which is the process of creating products that are usable by people with the widest possible range of abilities, operating within the widest possible range of situations. This is about making things accessible to all people (whether they have a disability or not).

Listing a few focal points on what could possibly be done to make open spaces more accessible by all:

  • Connection between destinations is an essential part of the travel chain and the key to attaining universal accessibility in the built environment.
  • By having improved linkage to the external areas and better access to buildings, people would be able to engage more actively in the society.
  • Two of the key factors to be considered in developing the concept of universal accessibility in external areas are – CONTINUITY and CONNECTIVITY.
  • Formulation of an access strategy is crucial during the early stage of design when planning the built. A lot is hampered when we generally just focus on the built environment and then later on notice the absence of adequate public open spaces.
  • Equivalent efforts should also be made to upgrade existing facilities to barrier free standards, increase transparency in transitions.
  • More innovation and creativity is needed in accentuating the inclusivity of external spaces in design.

Accessibility and age:

Accessibility in accordance with housing and household devices has become more prominent in recent decades due to a rapidly ageing population in developed countries. Ageing seniors may wish to continue living independently, but the ageing process naturally increases the disabilities that a senior citizen will experience.

A growing trend is the desire for many senior citizens to 'age in place', living as independently as possible for as long as possible. Accessibility modifications that allow ageing in place are becoming more common. Housing may even be designed to incorporate accessibility modifications that can be made throughout the life cycle of the residents.

Accessibility and economic bifurcations:

According to the case study reported above, done in Melbourne, Australia, there is a clear indication of the differences in the amenities provided in public open spaces in different economic neighbourhoods.

Accessibility and the disabled:

There are a lot of issues associated with the concept of the provision of open spaces as well as the accessibility into the ones existing. Firstly, there are no baselines according to any bye laws as to how much open space should be provided in any region. Secondly, as we are going into an era of sensitization, we should also look into the fact that the existing open spaces are not maintained well and are definitely much more difficult to be accessed into by the disabled.

Internationally recognized symbol for accessibilityFigure 4 - Internationally recognized symbol for accessibility
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Architecturally speaking, few of the most important points to be taken into consideration while planning a space, in accordance with mobility access, could be listed as follows:

  • Wheelchair accessible transportation- Any space of public importance should be easily accessible by the disabled and as comfortable as it would be for an abled individual. This means ensuring easy access by the citizens on wheelchairs, and at the same time certifying that separate, specific and safeguarded avenues are created for them, not in hindrance with the other people in that particular space.
Wheelchair accessible taxi in TokyoFigure 5 - Wheelchair accessible taxi in Tokyo
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  • Reserved parking- As shocking at it might be, according to the Draft Rights of People with Disabilities Bill 2012, there is nothing specifically mentioned about reserved parking for the disabled.
  • Barrier-free meeting rooms / restrooms / podium/speaker's platform- It is extremely essential to look into the fact that the different parts of a public space are easily accessible and the transition is brought down to a considerably transparent level for the disabled’s ease of access.
  • ADA Compliant Ramp Access to businesses and public places- Ramps are to be provided at all necessary spots in the ratio of 1:10
Ramp for disabled school latrine in UkundaFigure 6 - Ramp for disabled school latrine in Ukunda, Kenya
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  • Accessible lodging- Places of accommodation and lodging are of utmost comfort and the same should be maintained for all citizens.

There is still a lot to be done with respect to adopting accessibility as a home terminology and concept beyond the hardships. Certain laws are to be amended and some even to be brought to the picture in terms of provision of public open spaces in relation with, as well as in comparison to the built spaces.

There is an emergent need for sensitization of all towards the accessibility of the disabled into the public spaces. Transparent lucid transitions and barrier free environments are to be attained.


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