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Universal City | Design Principles for Achieving an Egalitarian City Experience

A universal city is marked by its inclusivity, i.e. a city that manages to include the participation of all individuals that contribute towards the city. This inclusion involves incorporating features that ensure inclusivity for all through establishing the frameworks of universal design (NYU, 2017) that can include architectural features, facilitation services, etc that aim to streamline the usufructuary experience in a universal city by offering design principles for formulating the layouts for a city.

Universal Design

Universal design in city planning can be utilized to provide accessibility and inclusion in cities for example to differently-abled people. Universal design involves the design of an environment such that its composition can be accessed and used to the greatest extent possible by beneficiaries. In this, spaces are designed such that minimum adaptive responses are required for their navigation. This involves creating systems having facilities and services that can be used by all beneficiaries targeted.

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Ronald Mace of North Carolina State University introduced the seven principles that should govern universal design in 1997. He developed these principles in consort with a working group of professionals including researchers involved in environmental design, engineers, architects and product design specialists. These principles are act as a guide to generating models of universal design. The seven universal design principles are as under –

The first principle is Equitable Use, whereby the design functions fairly towards a diverse array of needs. Mace provides certain guidelines (i) provision of the same means of use to users, either identical or if not, equivalent, (ii) no stigmatization of segregation of users, (iii) provision of secure use, (iv) a design architecture that appeals to all users.

The second principle is Flexible Use, whereby a range of individual preferences and needs are addressed by the universal design. The guidelines include (i) usage methods should offer choice, (ii) left-handed usage should be accommodated in addition to right-handed use, (iii) facilitate the diverse range of skills of the users, (iv) a design system attuned to the user’s method of usage.

The third principle is the Simplicity of Use, whereby the design system is easily understandable and user-friendly. This involves (i) less complexity, (ii) consistency with the skill levels and expectations of users, (iii) provision of information appropriately, (iv) a streamlined interface for tasks.

The fourth principle is Perceptible Information, which implies the communicative capabilities of universal design. The guidelines for such are (i) effective methods of presentation, (ii) mark essential information as such and make it understandable, (iii) provisions for people with receptive limitations.

The fifth principle is Minimization of Errors, wherein errors are limited in the formulation of universal design. The involves (i) proper arrangement of elements such that risk is minimized, (ii) provision of warnings for hazards, (iii) features that are tested for fail-safe measures, (iv) discourage degenerative usage.

The sixth principle is Low Physical Effort, implying comfortable and efficient usage of universal design products and services with minimal physical effort.

The seventh principle is adequate Size and Space for Approach and Use, which as its title suggests, implies optimization the size of and space occupied by the universal design product in relation to how it can be approached and its usage (NDA Ireland, 2014). The guidelines for this principle are dependent on the nature of the product or service in question.

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Universal Design in India

According to the National Centre for Accessible Environments (Samarthyam), India, thought on universal design for the universal city in India is based on the model based on Mace’s formula in 1997 (Samarthyam, 2016). The National Institute of Design (NID), India identifies universal design with sustainability, adding that these designs should serve as value propositions (NID, 2015).

The goal in India is achieving sustainable solutions that at the same time generate value at the installed locations. The practice for this is not as expansive and the focus is largely on design solutions in urban spaces for senior citizens, differently-abled people and people who suffer from reduced mobility. Installations such as ramps in public buildings are a prime example of how universal design solutions are being implemented in India, although Indian cities are yet distant from coming under the category of a universal city.

An example of where universal design can be applied in Indian cities is the layout on Indian roads, whose footpaths are littered with vendors, parked vehicles, electric poles, etc such that many a time pedestrians might prefer to walk on the road instead.

In a universal city, such experiences such as walking on footpaths should be more streamlined. Niels Schoenfelder, MD of Mancini Design told M.S. Preetha of the Hindu that education on universal design is required to have a universal city. He added that such education can motivate people to train themselves in providing better design solutions to build a universal city (The Hindu, 2015). There is a lack of awareness in India on the notion of accessibility and inclusivity in building a universal city.

The focus in the promotion of universal design principles in India is on strongly connecting with the psyche of Indian people along with their customization to Indian conditions. Although Mace’s principles are maintained, Indian principles are also added for the purpose of customization to Indian conditions.

Equitability for example comes under new directions in the Indian context, implying non-discriminatory usage for diverse users. The principle for Usability or ‘Sahaj’ is added which is a critical principle for customization to the Indian context. Another unique principle is the Cultural principle that aims to build design systems conjoined to the notion of India’s heritage and civilization.

Also introduced is the Economic principle that aims at providing mainly affordable solutions to urban navigation in India. An emphasis is also placed on the Aesthetic principle that looks to achieve social integration and could determine the acceptability of universal design solutions in the Indian context.

In sociological literature, human communities are said to be based on the interaction of four factors, namely the natural resources in the habitat, material and non-material culture, and population. These interactions are arranged by competition and consensus, where consensus implies interdependence.

While competition in cities is driven by a race for scarce resources, the cultural superstructure is driven by consensus and communication. This cultural superstructure is composed of adaptive responses to the organization of the city and involves certain learned techniques for individuals to navigate their way around cities. Optimizing on inclusivity as a principle for co-operation with the implementation of universal design principles would greatly improve the experience of liveability in a universal city. They also assist in dissolving some of the alienation felt by many individuals in cities and instead offer an institutional solution to co-operation in cities.

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