The people in our cities have incredibly varied lifestyles. They vary in the hours they work, the transport they use and in their accessibility needs – so it is essential that their cities work for them.
Helping people live better and less complicated lives is at the heart of engineering. The Institution of Civil Engineers, alongside the City Leadership Lab, is challenging the industry to do more to design and build cities that are inclusive for all regardless of gender, ethnicity or mental / physical ability.
Ensuring our designs and our cities are accessible for all was one of the most important issues discussed at the Inclusive Cities conference earlier this year.
Inclusive to all
The event brought together a range of experts from within and outside of the engineering community, and provided a platform to think about inclusive design from different points of view.
Inclusive, accessible design is not just about taking into account disability; it’s about safety and ease of use for all people. It’s also about ensuring everyone can use infrastructure independently.
To deliver projects that allow this, we must engage with the experiences of multiple users and incorporate their needs.
At Inclusive Cities, for example, the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association provided an important insight into how viewing design differently can help create spaces that are more easily navigable to those with sight loss.
Something as simple as wearing a blindfold while in a busy tube station could help change the perspective of a designer when thinking about the placement of steps, lifts and escalators, for example.
Fit for future
ICE celebrates its bicentenary this year, so it seems a fitting time to not only recognise the important work of the past, but to consider what engineers can do for the future, helping build more inclusive communities and cities in the next 200 years.
“Today’s engineers and future generations must be taught to consider the impact their work has on all societal groups”
The Office for National Statistics predicts that by 2046, a quarter of the UK’s population will be aged 65 or over, so we need to act now if we want to ensure our cities remain open and useable to all.
It’s good to see that modern infrastructure is taking these issues into account. The London 2012 Olympic Games is often cited as a project that put accessibility needs and inclusivity at the heart of design.
Transport options like London’s Docklands Light Railway and Crossrail have been designed with step-free access in mind. It’s important that we continue building on these developments and incorporate inclusion issues that are based on social rather than physical identities, such and race, gender, class or sexuality.
To achieve this, today’s engineers and future generations must be taught to consider the impact their work has on all societal groups.
It’s great to see sector bodies recognising this need and working hard to promote inclusive attitudes.
The development of the Built Environment Professional Education Project will give students and practitioners the confidence to deliver inclusive buildings, places and spaces.
The Construction Industry Council is producing a teaching and learning briefing to improve knowledge, skills and understanding, and the Essential Guide for Built Environment Professionals is also in development.
We want to lead our industry in debating how cities can be more inclusive and accessible. In addition to value for money, we should be thinking about the social value of the things we build, as well as environmental and economic sustainability.
Inclusivity is not a buzzword; the design of cities impacts people’s lives, so we must ensure the infrastructure that our cities depend on is welcoming to all.
Dr Ellie Cosgrave is a lecturer in Urban Innovation at UCL and member of the Institute of Civil Engineers