How to create a truly sustainable urban space

Posted on - Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

I’m presenting a seminar at the 2011 AIA National convention in New Orleans.  The title of my seminar is ADA and Urban Regeneration“.   I selected that topic to stay within the theme of the convention, but the more I investigated the connection, the more appropriate it became.  

Urban Regeneration is the process by which run-down parts of cities, towns or rural neighborhoods improve their social, environmental and economic well-being.  Its objective is ato reverse the cycle of exclusion suffered by people in disadvantaged areas, to provide decent homes,  good transport links, new jobs and safe, comfortable surroundings. These activities, when taken together, contribute to the growth of sustainable communities and the renewal of the built environment. 

So how does the ADA get tied in?  A community can be renewed and revitalized by means of environmental changes, sustainable strategies and economic stimulation.  But if us as designers forget about our aging population and other disabled patrons, then we are excluding a large portion of our citizens.  If buildings cannot be accessed and enjoyed by everyone, then we are not reaching its potential.  It is not by accident that the word regeneration is made up of “generation”.  It should be all generations that enjoy our spaces.  The ADA allows this to happen by giving us good guidelines to follow.

Urban Sidewalks

As part of thinking of how best to create a built environment that is universal, which is inclusive of the able-bodied community as well as the disabled community, urban sidewalks are one of the first issues to resolve

As pedestrian ways deteriorate, they create hazards for the wheelchair users as well as for the visually impaired.  This sidewalk has a larger change in level than the required ¼” which prevents wheelchairs from being able to go over the bump, and could be a tripping hazard for others.

 The way to fix this deficiency would be to repair the sidewalk to meet all the sloping requirements.  This is one of the considerations required when renovating a public sidewalk and accessible route.

Urban Entrances

In an urban setting, the entrances to shops and other establishments along the pedestrian way, must also be accessible.


In this entrance the ramp is too steep, and does not have the proper landing at the door.  This would cause the wheelchair user to slide down before he could open the door, that is if they were even able to get up the ramp to reach the door.

The solution would be to rebuild the ramp so it will have a 1:12 slope maximum and a 5′-0″ landing at the door.  The ramp could be placed on the side of the building reather than the front.  If the rise is more than 6″ then handrails on both sides will be required.

If some existing spaces are not able to have a 1:12 ramp, the new Standards allow for a steeper slope

Universal design and ADA allows for inclusion.  Buildings can be sustainable but if they don’t allow access to all then it fails at its goal.  The goal for regeneration is to utilize spaces for generations to come.  The ADA allows this to happen by giving us good guidelines to follow.