Inclusive streets: from low expectations to big dreams

We’ve written before about the health, environmental and economic benefits of walking, and the importance of making our cities and towns more accessible for pedestrians and cyclists. This was the theme of two recent webinars presented by Living Streets, an organisation that has been campaigning for better walking and cycling environments for almost a century.

The first webinar was presented by Stuart Hay, Penny Morriss and Robert Weetman from Living Streets, who explained that inclusive streets are defined spaces where all members of the community can walk or cycle.

But inclusive streets are about more than accessibility. Many streets and public spaces that might be accessible are not necessarily navigable. They can present social and physical barriers that mean the streets are not delivering equal access for everyone.

Walking Connects

In this context, Penny Morriss highlighted the work which she’s been doing with older people in a project called Walking Connects. A rising proportion of the UK population is over 65, and while many older people remain active, a lack of facilities – seating, shelter, hand rails, public toilets,  pedestrian crossings and well-maintained streets – can hinder to their ability to access services and meet other people.

In one Airdrie community studied by the Walking Connects team, residents found the lack of pedestrian access at the end of their housing complex a significant barrier to accessing the shops, community centre and church.

Robert Weetman of Living Streets noted that this community’s experience was by no means uncommon, and is not confined to older generations.

“We’re not talking about a small number of people not being able to get along a particular street; what we’re talking about actually moves into a large number of people not even being able to get to the end of their own local streets, or even outside of their gate.”

The reasons for this largely rest on the longstanding assumption that everyone in towns and cities wants to get around by car. Today, the need to tackle climate change and the recent improvements to air quality due to the pandemic restrictions, is driving a reappraisal of our car-centric cities. At the same time, local authorities, who are mostly responsible for the design and maintenance of streets, are under greater financial pressure than ever.

Challenging the authorities

The webinar stressed that citizens are not powerless when it comes to challenging councils to improve their streets. Penny highlighted another Walking Connects project in Edinburgh, where a number of tenants in a retirement development had experienced falls because of poor paving. The problem had been reported to the council many times, but residents were repeatedly told that the faults were not bad enough to warrant resurfacing. However, after working with Living Streets to document the number of falls, they persuaded the council to resurface the pavements.

Penny explained that this pro-active approach was vital, but that marginalised groups in the community often felt that their voice didn’t count:

“One of the first things that we need to do is to make sure that they understand it’s okay to ask for an issue that they encounter on a day-to-day basis to be resolved.”

A common message throughout the webinar was the need to bring local people, councillors and road technicians together. As Robert Weetman observed, once that happens communities can drop their low expectations and start to dream big:

“I think that our biggest and in some ways our most difficult priority is to create and communicate a vision of how different our streets could be, and why that would be so much better for everybody.”

People with disabilities: overcoming the barriers

The second webinar included contributions from  Keith Robertson, an advisor to the Scottish Government through the Mobility and Access Committee Scotland, and  Catriona Burness from the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), who spoke about the particular barriers faced by people with disabilities when navigating urban streets.

These include temporary road signs, advertising boards, bins and seating. For wheelchair users, blind or partially-sighted pedestrians, this ‘street furniture’ can make a simple journey more like an obstacle course, and can also have serious consequences. Barriers can cause accidents, and if people are deterred from getting out and about, they may experience mental ill health.

Both Keith and Catriona stressed the importance of local authorities engaging with disabled people and disability organisations, not as a tick-box exercise, but to really take their needs into consideration. The results of such consultations can be dramatic.

In Perth, for example, a pedestrianisation project did away with grilles where trees were planted, removing a hazard for wheelchair users and people using canes. At the same time, all of the signs, seats, bins and other items of street furniture were aligned, giving pedestrians unimpeded access along the street. Restaurants, cafes and shops placing advertising boards outside their establishments have to follow these regulations, or face a fine from the local authority.

People with sight loss: the challenges of social distancing

Catriona highlighted the numbers of people in Scotland who are blind or partially-sighted, amounting to over 200,000 people. This figure is likely to rise further over the next decade due to an ageing population and greater prevalence of diseases such as diabetes.

Pedestrians who are blind or partially sighted have found the context of coronavirus especially challenging. Social distancing, which is such a crucial part of preventing the spread of the virus, is very hard for people with sight loss to deal with.

One particular challenge has been the increasing use of ‘floating bus stops’. Councils have been responding to the need for greater social distancing on pavements by creating more pop-up cycle lanes, which in turn has led to bus stops being repositioned from the kerbside to ‘floating’ in-between bike lanes and the road.

For blind and partially-sighted pedestrians, such arrangements make boarding a bus more inaccessible and potentially hazardous. As Keith pointed out, accidents are usually a signal to local authorities that a design isn’t right, but if people with sight loss don’t feel safe going out, there will be no accidents to report, and the situation will be unchanged.

Final thoughts

If there was an underlying message emerging from the two webinars, it was that when it comes to accessible streets, design matters to ensure fair access for all. Badly designed streets can be frustrating, and dangerous, leaving some groups of people feeling excluded. On the other hand, well designed streets can help all of us feel good about getting around, and can especially help people with disabilities feel more independent. The key is to enable engagement between the people who design our streets and those who use them.

There was so much more useful content in both of these sessions, including a discussion on how to raise issues on street accessibility with the authorities who have the powers to make changes.

Living Streets have provided recordings of both webinars, along with transcripts of the proceedings.

Living Streets Webinar One: Video Recording; Transcript

Living Streets Webinar Two: Video Recording ; Transcript


Further reading: more from our blog on accessible streets

A home for life? Developing lifetime neighbourhoods to support ageing well in place

aerial view architecture autumn cars

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The UK population is ageing. A 2019 report from AgeUK using data from the ONS highlighted that there are nearly 12 million (11,989,322) people aged 65 and above in the UK of which: 5.4 million people are aged 75+, 1.6 million are aged 85+, over 500,000 people are 90+ (579,776) and 14,430 are centenarians. By 2030, one in five people in the UK (21.8%) will be aged 65 or over, 6.8% will be aged 75+ and 3.2% will be aged 85+.

Allowing people to live well in old age in their own homes is something which housebuilders and planners are giving increasing thought to, both from a wellbeing perspective for residents, and a financial perspective for services, including the NHS and social care. The creation of “lifetime neighbourhoods” – spaces where people can live well from birth to retirement – brings together a number of elements: providing easy access to services; creating physical spaces which are suitable for people with disabilities and mobility issues to navigate; and allowing people to maintain those social and community ties which are associated with wellbeing, which can sometimes be lost with forced moves to residential care or a prolonged stay in hospital.

Homes for life

Building homes that are suitable for an ageing population is an important first step in creating lifetime neighbourhoods. However, planners and developers are starting to realise that one size doesn’t necessarily fit all when it comes to housing for older people. As with the general population, older people are not a homogenous group, and while some may need the support provided by extra care or sheltered housing projects, or may need single-storey open plan living to accommodate mobility aids or telecare packages, others simply want to live in a space which enables them to live comfortably in a community which suits their needs in terms of location and availability of services.

Designing and building a range of different housing types, which includes single-storey homes, extra care and sheltered housing, as well as stock which is suitable for people looking to downsize, is a key part of the development of effective lifetime neighbourhoods. This can free up larger family homes for people with children to move into and ensure that people are not kept unnecessarily in hospital because housing cannot be adapted to meet changing needs. A 2014 Age UK report showed that the scarcity of suitable and affordable retirement housing is a barrier to downsizing, highlighting that retirement housing makes up just 5-6% of all older people’s housing. Now groups like the Housing Made for Everyone coalition (HoME) are calling on the government to make all new homes accessible and adaptable as standard to help meet growing need in the future.

Social infrastructure such as libraries, community centres, local shops and good transport links are also a key aspect to planning effective lifetime neighbourhoods, as is ensuring accessibility of services such as GP appointments. Effective infrastructure planning can help enable the whole community, not just older people to feel connected to their local area, both physically and socially which can really help to support the idea of lifetime neighbourhoods and enable people to live well regardless of age.

Preventing loneliness and isolation in older age

Preventing loneliness and isolation in old age by creating spaces which facilitate engagement and encourage people to have positive social interactions is important to ensure that everyone within the community feels respected, involved and appreciated. However, the challenges are different depending on the nature of the community in question. In rural areas, social isolation can be compounded by a lack of appropriate transport infrastructure or the removal of key services at a local level in favour of “hubs” which are often located in towns and cities; in urban areas, loneliness can be exacerbated by the chaotic, hostile or intimidating environment that living in a densely populated area can have, a flip side to the benefits of density.

Ambition for ageing is a programme which aims to discover what works in reducing social isolation by taking an asset based approach to creating age friendly communities. Asset based approaches seek to identify the strengths and the abilities of people and communities, rather than their deficits. The asset based approach to creating age friendly neighbourhoods also seeks to use the experiences and  attributes that all members of the community have to help make the community better. To create effective age friendly neighbourhoods older people need to have opportunities to participate and feel that they are making a positive contribution.

A space for all ages

While much of the research and literature on lifetime neighbourhoods focuses on older people, it is also important to ensure that spaces meet the needs of all groups in the community, including children and young people and people with disabilities. Creating places which balance the needs of all groups within the community is an important consideration for planners.

The physical environment can be as important as the built environment and infrastructure development when it comes to developing lifetime neighbourhoods. Spaces which make use of natural and green infrastructure with lots of green and open public spaces have been shown to help improve mental health and wellbeing, as well as encouraging people of all ages to be more active. A number of design factors such as good paving, effective street lighting and easy access to seating and public toilets make neighbourhoods accessible to older people and people with impairments. Poor design can ‘disable’ people in their immediate environment and act as a barrier to participation in local activities.

adult affection baby child

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Final thoughts

For lifetime neighbourhoods to be successful, it is necessary that there is access to a range of appropriate housing options. In addition, the planning of public, open and green spaces, availability of transport links and local community infrastructure like libraries, police stations and local shops are all vitally important to ensure communities can thrive.

It is clear that while there is demand for more suitable housing for people in older age, the location and type of housing being built must also meet the needs and expectations of older residents, including good connections to local infrastructure, and safe accommodation. Projects which bring a range of ages together can be effective in strengthening community cohesion, can help challenge stereotypes and can reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation. Collectively these different elements feed into the creation of lifetime neighbourhoods which can support people to live well into retirement and beyond.


Further reading: more articles from our blog

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Diversity and inclusion in the workplace: more than just demographics

 

The experts are in agreement: having a diverse workforce can drive innovation, improve performance and attract top talent.  As such, diversity and inclusion (D&I) is a ‘hot topic’, with many top organisations identifying it as a key element of their corporate strategy.

But what does effective D&I look like in practice?  In this blog, we will look at how to implement effective D&I initiatives in the workplace.

 

Progress still needed

While organisational diversity has improved in recent years, there is still a long way to go.

Action has been most visible in regards to gender.  However, although female employment rates have increased, male and female experiences of progression within the workplace are still vastly different.  For example, in 2018, FTSE 100 CEOs were still more likely to be called Dave or Steve than to be female.

Progress has been less tangible in regards to race and ethnicity.  A recent study by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) found that while 75% of FTSE 100 companies set progression targets for gender, only 21% did the same for BAME. Indeed, only 6% of top management jobs are held by Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) leaders, whereas BAME groups make up 12% of the working population.

There is a similar lack of representation among disabled and LGBT employees.  This only increases when considering intersectionality – that is, employees who identify with more than one protected status.

 

Diversity and inclusion are separate concepts

Many organisational diversity initiatives have proved unsuccessful.  Where have they gone wrong?

Firstly, being a truly inclusive organisation is about more than just hiring a diverse workforce.  Diversity alone does not guarantee that every employee will have the same experience within the organisation.

A first step towards implementing an effective D&I strategy is to understand that diversity and inclusion are related, but distinct, concepts.

As the recent CIPD report on ‘Building inclusive workplaces’ explains:

  • Diversity refers to the demographic differences of a group. It usually references protected characteristics in UK law: age, disability, gender, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.
  • Inclusion, on the other hand, is often defined as the extent to which everyone at work, regardless of their background, identity or circumstance, feels valued, accepted and supported to succeed at work.

Thus, effective organisational D&I is more than just demographics.  Put simplyDiversity is the mix. Inclusion is making the mix work’.

 

Copy and paste mistakes

Another key mistake that many organisations make is ‘copying and pasting’ initiatives from another organisation into their own situation.

Just because a D&I initiative has been successful elsewhere does not mean that it will be effective in a different organisational context.  It is essential that D&I initiatives are tailored to suit individual organisational contexts.  Much will depend on the unique structural and individual barriers to inclusion that are faced in an organisation.

 

Addressing the barriers

Thus, it is crucial that organisations identify and tackle these specific barriers to inclusion.

Structural barriers may include a lack of flexible working opportunities, or a lack of BAME representation on recruitment selection panels or within senior management and HR.

Individual barriers may include prejudice and bias (both conscious and unconscious).  For example, the TUC Racism at Work survey found that 65% of BAME workers have suffered harassment at work within the last five years, while 49% had been treated unfairly.  Similarly, an NIESR study found that 23% of LGBT employees had experienced a negative or mixed reaction from others in the workplace due to being LGBT or being thought to be LGBT.

 

Tackling prejudice and bias

Addressing employees’ unconscious bias is one way to help tackle this.  Unconscious bias training involves teaching people about the psychological processes behind prejudice and techniques that can be used to reduce it. Research has found that unconscious bias training can be effective in increasing people’s awareness and knowledge of diversity issues.

However, evidence of its impact on attitudes and behaviours is less conclusive, so it is not a panacea.

 

Making the mix work

So what else can organisations do to help foster inclusion?

Research has found that there are several key aspects that contribute to individual feelings of inclusion.  In particular, individuals must feel valued for their uniqueness, and they must feel able to  be their authentic selves at work, regardless of any differences between them and other team members. This, in turn, leads to a sense of belonging, without the need to conform to ‘group norms’.

Individual feelings of inclusion are influenced both by the behaviours of others at work, as well as informal and formal organisational practices.

Some good practice examples of organisational inclusion include:

  • Fair policies and practices
  • Ensuring the availability of specific practices, such as flexible working, that can support inclusion
  • Involving employees in decision making processes and networks
  • Actively taking feedback on board
  • Ensuring that leaders are role models for inclusion
  • Genuinely valuing individual difference, not just hiring for representation

Other practices that may help promote inclusive working environments include mentorship, sponsorship and the creation of inclusive employee networks.

 

Learning from good practice

The good news is that an increasing number of organisations are working towards becoming truly diverse and inclusive.  Awards and certifications such as Business in the Community’s Race Equality Award, EDGE certification for gender equality, and Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index for LGBT inclusion, all highlight the positive work that is being done.

For example, Pinsent Masons – currently the number 1 employer in the Workplace Equality Index – have worked to remove barriers to employment for trans individuals, provided support for LGBT women to overcome the ‘double glazed glass ceiling’ and facilitated the creation of an LGBT and allies employee network.

 

Inclusion leads to better, fairer workplaces 

Successful D&I cannot be measured by demographics – it is not enough to just have the right numbers on paper.  Every employee must feel valued as an individual and have equal access to opportunities.  In order to achieve this, organisations must look at their own contexts and develop initiatives that tackle the individual and structural barriers to inclusion that have been identified.  Listening to feedback from employees, and genuinely valuing and acting upon their input, is essential.

Becoming more inclusive is not only a moral obligation, it also has profound business implications – a recent study found that the potential benefit to the UK economy from full representation of BAME individuals across the labour market through improved participation and progression is estimated to be £24 billion per annum.  Thus, inclusive organisations are not only better and fairer places to work, but can also achieve better performance and innovation.


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