Reimagine Projects Around Ireland

Reimagine Projects Around Ireland

Pocket Guide 3

Accessibility and Inclusion in Placemaking

Emma Geoghegan

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Placemaking is about strengthening the connections – physical, social, economic and cultural – between people and the places they share. It incorporates but goes beyond the creation of better public spaces and facilitates the civic activities that define a place and support its ability to thrive. Successful placemaking is by its nature inclusive – by supporting the engagement with and use of a place by all members of a community, it creates a framework for sustainability and long-term equity of access and use.


    Accessibility is not only about the physical or cognitive ability to use and navigate a place, it also incorporates the equitable access to the modes of design, creation, policy making that influence how places are made. An inclusive approach to placemaking embraces the broadest categories of society – regardless of age, gender, ability or class. It raises the question of agency – it should be clear from the outset who is driving the placemaking project and what their motivations and criteria for success are.

    Setting an inclusive agenda from the outset will ensure that the broadest range of community needs can be met in a project. These needs might relate to physical access and use, legibility and wayfinding, a sense of safety and security or simply feeling welcome to use a building or space. This welcoming attitude starts at the beginning – encouraging people to participate in a process of designing or re-shaping a public place can embed a sense of ownership and responsibility for their environment.

    Step 1

    People and communities are at the heart of places

    If the ‘community is the expert’ effective placemaking engages with these experts from the outset and includes them in the process from inception, implementation and beyond. Designing for people and their needs requires strategies to listen, engage and follow through. It takes time! A starting point can be the observation and documenting of how people currently use a place at different times of the day or days of the week. Identify the challenges and concerns that people using the space might have. The next step requires the cultivation of strategies for reaching out to people and their communities.

    Cultivate meaningful approaches to reach different demographics, groups and communities. Identify the communities who are not currently being reached and may not have a voice. Designing and reshaping places inclusively requires cultural competency – understanding how age, gender, ability, race and class impact on a person’s experience of the place. Making space for people starts with accessible and inclusive participation. Consider caring responsibilities, access and transportation, interpretation and translation challenges, physical attributes of the venue (for example steps, WC provision, lighting acoustics) in planning participatory events and meetings.

    Step 2

    There is no such thing as one ‘community’ in a place

    Step 3

    Inclusive Placemaking offers opportunities and choice

    Inclusive places are designed to allow the dignity and agency of all. Having agency in placemaking also means being afforded the opportunity to engage equitably with a design or policy making process. Simply inviting people to participate is not enough – be creative! The Project for Public Places website is a great reference for design tools for inclusive design processes¹ and the Inclusive Design Research Centre provides an excellent toolkit for planning inclusive participatory design activities.²


    That respond to the needs of the people who use them and embrace difference and diversity. Consider who feels welcome in a physical space? Who feels like they belong? Who doesn’t and why might this be the case? Welcoming places are physically accessible, have adequate seating and are well lit and easily navigated. Be conscious of potential conflicts in needs and usage, for example between different age cohorts. Identify the use patterns and needs of different groups of people and consider how these can be accommodated fairly.

    Step 4

    Design Welcoming Places

    Step 5

    Inclusive accessible places

    Allow people to understand, navigate and use them regardless of their age, gender, ability or circumstances

    They are legible and flexible enough to allow people to use them in different ways. For people with physical disabilities, barriers can range from blocked wheelchair ramps, to inaccessible sanitary facilities, to shops without step-free access. Meanwhile, for those with learning disabilities, cognitive impairments or on the autistic spectrum, a cluttered and hectic urban environment can be a sensory minefield. Universal Design principles can be used to ensure that a place can be easily accessed and used by the greatest number of people.  Universal Design is simply good design – it requires places, buildings and environments to be designed or reshaped to be used equitably, flexibly, intuitively and with lowest physical effort possible.

    Such as accessibility guidance and walkability audits, alongside project specific observational studies to create environments that are not only safe and accessible but provide meaningful and positive experiences. The Building for Everyone: A Universal Design Approach publications¹ provide excellent guidance on the application of UD principles in the design of places. The NDA and Age Friendly Ireland have published a toolkit for Walkability Audits² of towns and villages and the National Wheelchair Association offer guidance on creating opportunities for accessible outdoor recreation.³ Architecture and Design Scotland have identified ‘10 Principles of a Caring Place’ ⁴ for embedding an empathetic approach in placemaking projects.


    Step 6

    Make use of available tools and resources

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