‘Universally Designed’ Neighborhoods Increase Mobility for Everyone

A movement gaining traction worldwide is that of “Urban Villages” — communities designed with all people in mind, including those with disabilities, families with young children, and older adults. These communities feature street, business, and housing design that allow for wheelchairs, mobile scooters, parents with strollers, walkers, and more. Whether at The Villages or Margaritaville in Florida, or a new in-town apartment complex, we are seeing design and customizations that consider questions of mobility in their planning.  

The National Household Travel Survey estimates that about 9 percent of all U.S. residents are persons with disabilities. But the reality is that almost all of us will spend part of our lives with some sort of mobility impairment, whether due to age or illness. In fact, ability advocates often describe people without disabilities as “temporarily abled,” highlighting that fact.

While new technology — in the form of electric wheelchairs and other mobility devices — provide a high degree of mobility for persons with disabilities, such devices only work when there are no barriers to mobility. A curb without a ramp, a broken sidewalk, too-skinny walkways, inaccessibly restrooms or entries to shops and restaurants, steps — any of these can render modern technology useless.

Urban Villages: What’s The Big Deal?

A concept championed by Todd Litman, founder and executive director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute in British Columbia, Canada, Urban Villages are communities where commonly used services — stores, healthcare facilities, parks, restaurants, and neighborhood pubs — are easy to reach by walking or rolling, without the inconvenience and costs of automobile or public transit. Litman offers one additional prerequisite: romance ready! In other words, walkways and ramps should be able to accommodate walkers or wheelchairs moving side by side. This ensures “that everybody can enjoy freedom, opportunity, and romance,” he says.

Universal design benefits everyone, not just those with disabilities. Ramps on curbs, for example, are used not only by people in wheelchairs, but also by a variety of others: parents with strollers, people with delivery carts, teens on skateboards, older adults with walkers, and the like.

Change Starts With Intentionality

Immobility isolates peoples. It obstructs access to buildings, but also to jobs, services and the community. It can separate and expand differences among people if there is no intentional effort to address the barriers that exist in communities.

The UN further notes that “developing urban infrastructures, facilities, and services that are [built using] inclusive ‘universal design’ principles incur additional costs [of] less than 1 percent of the total cost.”

Let’s Build Back Better!

Universal design can be cost-effective — it just needs to be planned for from the beginning of any urban improvement or construction project — an intention rather than an after-thought. To help accomplish that, we need increased advocacy for affordable, accessible housing and neighborhoods. The infrastructure funds that are part of the COVID relief dollars going to states and municipalities are a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make needed improvements across the country.

This advocacy isn’t just for people with disabilities. If you’re lucky enough to be one of the “temporarily abled,” you are advocating for your future self as well. Make your voice heard.

Third Chapter Living celebrates, challenges, informs and promotes conversations about housing issues affecting the Baby Boomer Generation. Visit our website to earn more about the work we’re doing. Our Facebook Group is an active resource center with tips and recommendations on navigating aging-in-place issues.

4 Comments

  1. john jirkofsky on June 20, 2022 at 12:55 pm

    Brilliant idea. Made this part of the Government’s infrastructure bill as a prototype community of the future. More forward thinking like this is necessary to bring everyone together as a cohesive, healthy community.

    Wonderful.

  2. Leonard E. Mc Gee on June 20, 2022 at 4:39 pm

    Yessss these ideas reflect another way of carrying beyond self interest. Viewing the important of others as oneself. Finding space the enrich our overall social .

    Thank you for the writing .
    I read to the end and followed the links.
    Shalom

  3. Debbie Lawrence on June 26, 2022 at 12:04 pm

    Insightful! I hope there are those with resources and influence who can make this concept a reality. And sooner rather than reality.

  4. Reese Fayde on June 29, 2022 at 4:34 pm

    Thank you, All, for the thoughtful comments and encouragement.

    Change at the local level, even at the individual project level is where I have the most hope. So keep your eyes open for public works, major redevelopment and even modest repair programs that could intentionally include accessible design features.

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