Universal Access to Parks and Plazas

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Robison Wells
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Parks and plazas are designed as gathering places for communities, meant to enrich lives and cultural experience, but recent studies show that that is not the case. While the elderly make up 20% of the population, only 4% of park users are elderly. The problem, according to one study, is accessibility.

The American Society of Landscape Architects recommends these following steps to better accommodate the elderly and disabled into your parks and plazas:

Connections to the street: Parks and plazas should meet the street at grade, ensuring that anyone can enter the space.  

Clear identity: While maintaining a seamless entry from the street is important, creating a space separate from the street gives identity to the space.  

Ease of access to restrooms: Bathrooms that are easy to locate allow families with children, people with disabilities, and older adults to readily use facilities that everyone needs.

Isolated and open: Providing a mix of spaces, enclosed and open, gives people agency in the kind of environment they want to experience. For older adults, open space is important. But autistic, or otherwise neurodivergent people prefer more enclosed and secure environments with less sensory information. Deaf or hard or hearing people also prefer more enclosed and secure environments.  

Previewing spaces: Clear lines of perception between spaces allow older adults and people with disabilities to preview spaces and discern if they will feel comfortable. This is important for intellectually and/or developmentally disabled people, as they can anticipate the amount of sensory information a space currently has.

Comfortable and accessible seating: Many people use mobility devices, and their needs should be accommodated in seating areas. Public furniture should take wheelchair users into account, offering tables and seating that allows them to engage socially in parks and plazas without feeling isolated.

Trees: Trees provide shade, reduce glare, and can create enclosed areas within larger public open spaces. While trees have benefits, they need to be maintained to prevent obstructions into walkways.

Well lit: Lighting is crucial to extending how long people feel safe occupying and moving through public places, and is especially a concern for deaf people or those with low vision, older populations, and women.

Consistent multi-sensory wayfinding: Tactile paving, and the sound of water can indicate to sensory disabled people areas where extra caution is important.”

For a more detailed description of each of these topics, please visit the American Society of Landscape Architects.

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