Imagine cities where your disability was no longer a barrier. Where moving freely on the pavement and onto the next place wasn’t something that made you nervous. Think of a world where the toilets, barriers and gradients are clearly defined.
How much of this can we borrow from environmental causes? Can we repurpose the aged-care approach? Is mental health the answer to accessible cities for disability? Or should we throw it all out and start again.
Today, we take a walk through the idea of improved liveability borrowed from other sectors to see what and where it can be applied to accessibility and inclusion
The long roots of good food
Solving food issues is one that gains enormous press. And why not? If you solve issues with food production, you influence so many things. The environment benefits from better food production. Poverty has less of an impact. Nutrition can be raised and therefore health improved with access to good food.
We benefit from developing cities that focus on making food a part of our liveability plan.
Consider the transition movement and the creation of cities that grow community gardens. What that does for the environment and feeding people better is obvious. Consider the value it has on educating children in food production. How coming together to work a garden as a community builds community is often lost in the discussion.
In New Zealand, they map the fruit and veggies throughout the country via Google Maps and extra technology. To Briometrix, that sounds awfully familiar.
Simple yet effective steps run through the core of each of these ideas.
The first is that scarcity is ignored in favour of abundance. It’s making people think about growing enough food to feed everyone instead of relying on business or growing your own for supply.
By bridging the gap with food access, we can create movements. People become better educated, more aware and likely, more empathetic to their neighbour.
And its about including all hands and voices. Food is universal, and its production is something we all benefit from. By understanding that supplying food enriches bellies as much as lives and environment, positive progress is made.
Instead of segregating people via their ability to access food or not, food is given to all and this enables everyone to work together in harmony. This is a wonderful message of inclusion because it doesn’t break people into groups that need the food versus those that could enjoy ready supply. It’s about understanding that if you fix it for people, people benefit.
Better enabling the elderly
Autonomy for people with disabilities and for the elderly is tied to confidence. Yet we fail people regularly by asking them to accept sub-par situations of elder abuse, over-reliance on services, broken streets and personal safety dictating the terms of their engagement with the wider world.
How refreshing it is then to see Victoria leading the charge on “age-friendly communities”. Here, the basic principles of liveability are applied to create supportive environments. Through respecting life choices, focussing on activity and wellbeing, and providing an atmosphere free from abuse and protecting the most vulnerable, age friendly communities create workable living spaces and villages for people as they age. By addressing social, economic, personal and behavioural detriments in relation to culture, gender and the physical environment, age-friendly communities aim to raise the bar for the elderly. It utilises self-determination and choice as a positive baseline in concert with social services and community goals.
A lofty and ambitious undertaking for sure, yet one that is demonstrating consistent positive results since 2013.
The Japanese are similarly voting for inclusion over segregation and building village style living for the elderly. This is about bringing all facets of the community together but focussing on solving the needs of the elderly first to benefit all.
This is another idea that is eerily like Briometrix’s hypothesis that if you solve the situation for people with disability, enjoying mobility means a greater spill on for the community. By fixing the pointy end of the problem for wheelchairs, you also include the elderly, other disabilities, prams, groups, cyclists and more.
The question then becomes how can the same model of support mechanisms meets built environment surrounding both community and individual on a wider scale?
Stress and mental health issues
There is a lot of talk about work-life balance and the issues of mental health in the context of work. But what about supporting mental health better from a city level?
Green spaces are a great start. But it doesn’t assist with the deeper sense of isolation and longing for connection most people feel.
Perhaps the answer to better mental health isn’t trying to balance life. Perhaps it is about making life easier to manage?
In the UK and Europe, families are coming together to support each other through shared chores, parenting and community living. As a stress reduction model, it lowers the domestic burden on families, creating greater time to play and learn and enjoy each other. As homework and solving family issues can be addressed on a wider scale, the sense of isolation parents often feel is negated. A sense of connectivity and community underpins the children’s experience of growing up, making them far more aware of their role in a wider context.
Smaller scale operations exist in this context in Australia. These include things such as MamaBake, where women meet to batch bake food for the entire week and meet with other women to talk while they do so.
Mental health is also becoming incorporated in design and architecture. Mindfulness is taught to school students as a way of calming classroom stress. We are building small squares with each turn that come together to create a wider safety net.
Pushing liveability into public spaces and giving proper strategies within schools and building projects is a bloody good start. So too is casting an eye over communal living.
What else can we do to save Australians from a predicted 45% of the population experiencing a major mental health crisis in their lifetime? Especially when we know there are higher incidences of stress and mental health issues in urban environments?
Throw it all out and start again?
What if we begin to start seeing the idea of a micronation as a solution to the challenges we face? As the environment continues to be pushed and pulled in the direction of those who believe in climate change and those who do not, many of us feel a ticking time bomb.
In 1972, the Stockholm Declaration wanted us to have the right to clean soil, water and air. It was about giving every living soul the opportunity to health through providing access to these fundamentals of liveability. gave earth’s inhabitants the right to live on our planet with clean air, water and soil.
It optimistically proclaimed:
“Man has the fundamental right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life, in an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being, and he bears a solemn responsibility to protect and improve the environment for present and future generations.”
Yet we live in a world where three and a half decades later, we still face the same issues with securing clean air, water and soil. There remains a tussle between economic interest and the interests of humanity. It’s as though the two are mutually exclusive.
From here, we see private companies attempting to fill void and lead the charge. Elon Musk has dived in to help with the South Australian energy crisis. PayPal founder Joe Quirk has written about and heralds at new utopia with floating nations.
Have we really reached the path where private enterprise must lead the political charge and if necessary, supply situations divorced from our current society to do so? Or can we with the help of people such as Elon Musk create a better opportunity to restructure and revitalise what already exists?
Innovation from within
When considering liveability, the challenges we face can seem so incredibly daunting.
Yet as we speculate that it takes a village to raise a child, perhaps it also takes a village to come together and weave a tapestry of change. By drawing from the boards of age, environment and innovation, we can learn. From tapping into our innate desire to connect, we can create community.
How much of this then can we apply to liveable cities overall in the context of disability, inclusion and improving our overall lives? Let’s see, shall we!