Planning of Equipped Green
The concept of accessibility generally refers to an absence of architectural barriers: according to Monzeglio (1990), the meaning of the term architectural barriers goes well beyond the simple concept of the physical obstacle; in fact the concept ” can mean both a single element and a whole space, projected and/or built in such way as not to adequately conform to the physical, psychic, and intellectual characteristics of its use and resulting, in consequence, in an impediment to a free, sure, autonomous, and complete fruition.”
|Planning of the areas of standstill|
|Tactile signaling to earth|
The planning of accessible green areas can concern both spaces to be created “ex novo” and natural areas that do not have constructed elements inside.
In fact, by “green areas” are generally meant the urban setups (public gardens, urban parks, game areas for children), that is, those which are suburban (natural parks, paths and nature trails), or those places where games, recreational and of the leisure time activities can be developed, in contact with nature.
One of the presuppositions of planning “green” areas which are indeed suitable for everyone is that of considering the needs of every possible category of user, refusing the artificial definition of a standard person on which to plan the characteristics of the project; thus, together with those of normal-bodied people, the needs of those people that find difficulty in carrying out normal daily activities, either permanently or temporarily, will also have to be taken into consideration.
To be considered, therefore, are not only disabled people in the narrow sense of both motory and sensorial disability, but also the so-called “weak users”:
– elderly people,
– pregnant women;
– traumatized people;
– people affected by chronic illnesses (allergies, cardio-respiratory illnesses, etc.);
– people that accompany individuals in wheelchair or children in push chairs.
Each of the categories listed above, just like each different type of disability, expresses a range of needs that are different from the others. It is necessary to know these, even if only in a superficial way, in order to come up with a suitable solution.
The central point still remains the search for a solution that leads to an integration, rather than to a segregation, of the different categories of users in specialized spaces (a classical example of which is the “garden for the blind”), that end up becoming gilded ghettos, not at all frequented by those people for which they were intended.
An obstacle that is often placed in the way of creating measures to make the natural spaces accessible resides in the presumed incompatibility of possible changes with the protection of the native characteristics of the environment. In reality, on one hand the changes asked for are often of a modest impact, both from an aesthetic point of view and also from an economic one, requiring more sensitivity and attention to details and not a great employment of means. On the other hand, it has no pretension of being able to make areas accessible when this clearly can not be, but simply to provide everybody with opportunities and possibilities.
General planning criteria
First of all must be considered what concerns directly the accessibility to a space, or rather, the demolition of the architectural barriers, both physical barriers and perceptive ones.
In this respect, it must be remembered that people on wheelchairs, who we generally think about when we speak of architectural barriers, constitute in reality only the smallest part of the population of disabled people, and therefore, when speaking of accessibility and of architectural barriers, we need to refer to the needs of people belonging to numerous different categories.
Furthermore, the concept of accessibility is connected not only to that of mobility, but also to that of comfort, safety and the elimination and attenuation of the sources of uneasiness and fatigue, as proposed by the legislation in force on the issue.
The first phase in the planning of a green space of whatever type has to be that of a survey of the existing situation, with the aim of appraising what spaces can indeed be made accessible, on the basis of the following considerations:
· reachability: that is to say, the possibility of reaching a green space autonomously, both with public and private transport;
· physical characteristics of the zone and the paths which are present: length, width, inclination, type of surface, presence of ramps or stairs, dimensions of the space which has to be free from obstacles, etc.;
· means for orientation: a system of signs, brochures, audiocassettes and other sources of information on the characteristics of the paths, on the presence of points of interest or danger, on the time it takes to follow a route, etc.;
· the infrastructures present: seating or picnic areas, washrooms, waste bins, drink fountains, shelters, etc.
Below will be analyzed in detail each of the four aspects just mentioned.
The area in question should be reached by public transport services and foresees a number of suitable parking spaces for private vehicles; with regards to the latter, two points have to be borne in mind: the dimension standards foreseen by law (width 3.60 m, which is greater than normal to allow an easier access for people with wheelchairs) and the distance from the entrance of the area, that should not be more than the 30 meters.
Ideally there should also be an area immediately adjacent to the entrance for the ascent and descent of people, together with a waiting area, set at the same level and separated from it through little posts which signal this partition. Since for many people there is a reduction of mobility, elements of interest must be prepared in proximity of the place which can be reached by both private and public transport. In addition, inside every space should be guaranteed a clear separation between any vehicular traffic present (including bicycles) and pedestrians.
Physical characteristics of the route
The area has to be accessible and usable, intending by accessible the possibility of entering into a structure, both closed and open, through suitable accesses and to be able to move around inside it, and by usable the possibility of autonomously using the equipment and the furnishing employed in the green areas, also including the vegetation present in them. The characteristics considered here will be: the length, width, inclination and terrain of the pedestrian path, the presence of stairs, ramps and of a free space along and around the route.
– length: it is important that the existing routes all offer destinations of interest, so as to give motivation and an objective to those who follow them; ideally a series of routes of different length and difficulty should be created to reach the same destination, so as to leave each person the possibility to choose, through an self-evaluation of their opportunities, in correspondence to their own capacities.
The briefest routes should also have, however, some elements of interest along the journey, so as to not make them appear to be simple shortcuts, or secondary routes in comparison to “normal” ones. However, for disabled people, the practicable length of a route should not be more than a kilometre.
The possibility of renting motor vehicles of small dimensions (electric scooters) would greatly facilitate the mobility inside spaces containing great and medium-sized dimensions; the renting of wheelchairs could also be useful and could be used not only by disabled people, but also by elderly people or those with limited physical energy.
– width: the minimum width of the paths should be of 1.20 m to allow the contemporary passage of a wheelchair and a person; at regular intervals in the areas, a greater width should be allowed ( at least 1.80 m), to facilitate the passage of two wheelchairs; where possible, the creation of paths with a constant width of 1.80-2.00 m is, however, desirable. The curvature radius has to allow baby carriages to turn and therefore not be less than 140 cm.
– inclination: the maximum inclination allowed, even by law, is of 8%; in reality it should not be more than 5%, with the creation in this case of areas of rest every 15 m.
If the value of inclination is more than 5%, the rest areas have to be placed at 10 meters distance from each other.
It would also be preferable for the inclination not to be more than 3%.
It is also important to consider the transversal inclination, that has to be between 0.5 and 1%, to allow a normal flow of water without becoming dangerous for circulation.
· the terrain has to be sufficiently compact and level, and has to be free from any element which can be an obstacle, such as stones, protruding roots, etc.; some arboreal species (maples, cypresses, beech trees, black poplars, plane-trees, willows) have surface root systems that make their presence unsuitable in the immediate proximities of pedestrian paths;
· any “joints” in the terrain should be avoided, if possible, or in any case, be small in size;
· surfaces: the materials to be used can be of different types.
In general, “soft” materials (earth, grass, shattered and pressed rock, etc.) have the tendency to become irregular and difficult to go along, and furthermore erode without bearing great traffic; they have high maintenance costs but low installation costs; in the case of grass, it is possible to attenuate the irregularities by placing rows of honeycombed blocks, or similar materials, below the surface of the grass.
Hard surfaces (asphalt, cement or levelled earth) are instead regular and stable, ice and snow can easily be removed from them; the costs of installation are high, but maintenance costs are low; other surfaces, of varying types (pebbles, stone paving, wooden disks with sand, etc.), have large joints and irregular surfaces, and can be damaged by ice and snow; they have moderate costs of maintenance and installation.
To make the routes accessible ancient techniques can also be adopted effectively. These are based in particular on the compaction of inert material, particularly suitable in spaces which have an elevated historical value, in which other methods result too invasive.
Where it is not possible to make the terrain accessible due to its physical characteristics, an extreme solution can be adopted, consisting in the creation of a raised wooden gangway placed on a metallic structure anchored to the ground.
Surfaces that produce annoying reflections must be avoided, as these can become dangerous when at times they impede sight.
– ramps: ramps, created to allow even people in wheelchairs to overcome differences in level, become tiring, however, if they are too long, even if they have a minimum inclination, and therefore should not be more than 10 m in length, overcoming a difference in level of 1.2 m. However; where this is not possible, there should be rest areas every 10 m. Before and after a ramp, as with staircases, there should be some free space of at least 1.5 m in length on the flat;
– stairs: the most comfortable dimensions foresee a width of at least 28 cm, with a maximum height of 15 cm.
Single steps should never be made for they are hard to perceive; the presence of any single steps and of ramps of staircases must be signalled by different surface design or by strips of colour which contrast with the terrain (which must never be in grass, given its slipperiness).
There should be contemporarily the presence of both stairs and ramps: if for people in wheelchairs stairs constitute at times an insurmountable obstacle, they results instead to be advantageous points of reference for the visually disabled, and on the other hand, ramps result to be dangerous for people who move with mobile supports (crutches, etc.) because the risk of slipping increases.
– free space: the pedestrian routes have to introduce free space, in which branches or other dangerous elements (for example signs or protruding benches), are not to be found. These must be at least 2.00 m in height and of equal width to the path plus 30 cm on both of its sides; the presence of trees with drooping branches (birch trees, willows) near the paths should be avoided.
With regards to a summary of the morphological characteristics of the routes, it can be useful to give a distinction made by Monzeglio, who divides them into five classes.
Means of orientation
All the information given should be as simple as possible to read and to understand, in order that everyone may understand it, even people with learning difficulties; in addition, the kinds of information should contemporarily exploit different sensory channels, so that it always gives a possibility to whoever is unable to use a determinate sensory channel in an effective way.
Since a lot of people have difficulty in orientation and low speeds of movement, it is preferable to concentrate different things of interest in short spaces, always paying attention to avoid the overlap of too great a number of stimuli.
a) It is useful for those who are hypo-sighted to have colours which contrast with the landscape, for instance to define the contour of the pedestrian paths, to put in evidence the presence of benches and other useful infrastructure, or to signal the presence of elements of danger (steps, surfaces of water, etc.);
b) Making the contours of the pedestrian paths stand out in a clear way permits to provide an important means of orientation and can, for example, be obtained by raising the edges of the paths in comparison to the surface trodden, with the kerb that can also be perceived not by the blind who move by using a stick; another way can be that of placing some banks of grass or hedges close to the paths covered in asphalt.
The presence of kerbs with a height of 10-12 cm is desirable, particularly where there are dangerous situations.
c) one thing which is very useful for the orientation of people with visual disabilities is the creation of surfaces with different patterns; it is possible in this way to create a code, to be given on entering the area, with which to transmit a series of information (presence of dangers, of points of interest, the direction in which the path should be followed, etc.). Different patterns can be obtained in different ways: strips of different materials (pebbles, wood, asphalt) slightly raised in comparison to the level of the path and set perpendicular to the direction, corresponding to those elements whose presence wants to be communicated;
d) the presence of a map of the area set near the entrance is important; on it should be placed as much information as possible; there exist maps in relief that can be read by visually disabled people (Ondertoller and Todaro,1997).
Even any eventual descriptive panels disseminated inside the area should also be made with characters in relief and magnified (the single characters should be more than16 mm and of a colour which contrasts with the background), written also in Braille and set so as to be tilted 45° in comparison to the vertical axis to allow an easier reading of it.
The signs present must be positioned in an area that is external to the paths at a distance of less than at least 25 cm, so as not to hamper its practicability, and at a height of 140 cm from the ground (or in any case at a distance between 125 and 165 cm) with a constant coherent positioning, or rather, for instance, always on the right of the path or always on its left; a similar criterion should be communicated to the visitor to the entrance of the area;
e) in particular for the visually disabled people, it is possible to foresee the opportunity to furnish a cassette recorder at the entrance, if possible with instructions in Braille on the back, and audiocassettes on which is recorded all the necessary information for visiting the area in an autonomous way; the cassettes could also be placed on sale via mail on request in order to permit people to plan the visit in advance.
In the most sophisticated versions, it is possible to install a local audio network underground that has connections in correspondence to points of particular interest; people can plug headphones given to them at the entrance to these and listen to descriptions of these elements of interest.
It is an expensive system to install but is of a permanent nature and apart from being particularly effective, it does not seem to be subject to vandalism.
f) the creation of brochures in Braille is naturally useful for visually disabled people, even if it must be remembered that only a minor percentage of the blind is able to read Braille, and therefore this means needs to be integrated by other systems which transmit information;
There follows a brief description of the principal infrastructures that must be considered when one desires to make an existing space accessible or when a new one is planned:
· seating areas: there have to be frequent seating area since the elderly, who have difficulty in mobility or reduced physical energy, have to be able to have the possibility to rest.
They must be created close to places of interest, and positioned in such a way as to make it possible to be both in the shade and in the sun, in relation to seasonal variations.
The benches must be made so that they are comfortable and allow people to get up and sit down easily; for this reason they will have to have a width of 60 cm for person, be 40-45 cm deep, and 45-50 cm in height from the ground. They also have to have armrests (placed 15-20 cm above the seating space) and backs.
In addition, the inclination between front and back has to be of 5º, while that of the backs has to be at most 10° from the vertical axis, and the height of the armrests 20-23 cm from the seating space. In front of the benches there must be left a space of 60 cm in order to allow people to stretch their legs without obstructing people walking along the pedestrian paths; furthermore, next to each bench must be left a space of 90 cm to allow people in wheelchairs to draw up alongside. The material used to make the benches must not chip, nor be subject to rapid changes in temperature (the best material in this sense is wood).
The rest areas should be protected from extreme atmospheric conditions as much as possible, and in particular should be protected from wind through the use of barriers, preferably of a vegetable nature. The best results are obtained from the use of semi-permeable barriers, which do not create phenomena of turbulence.
· waste baskets: these will have to be at a height of 100 cm, and have a horizontal element of support above the basket, of a height between 120 and 140 cm;
· drinking fountains: the most suitable are those in the form of an upturned L that allow two different heights of drinking, the lower placed at 75 cm from the ground for children and people wheelchairs, the upper at a height of 110 cm. The controls will have to be manually lever-operated and usable with only one hand;
· handrail: the presence of a handrail appears to have multiple utility. They can in fact serve to protect from any possible sources of danger, can act as a source of support for people with problems of mobility, and finally be used as a means of orientation by visually disabled people. In this last case the presence of a handrail, besides delimiting the border of the path and pointing out the direction, also allows the installation of information signs. The handrails must be created with two rails placed respectively at a height of 80 and 110 cm, in order to let children and people in wheelchairs also to use them. The cylindrical form, of at least 4-5 cm in diameter and the use of a “warm” material, such as wood, will allow a comfortable and sure grip.
· structures for sensorial knowledge: it is also possible to think about the creation of structures in which gaining knowledge about the natural characteristics of the area is stimulated through the use of all the senses, in which, for example, models of animals, nests, feathers, eggs or trees can be explored inside the area (leaves with a particular form, hollow trunks, etc.), and musk and ferns placed so that it is possible to take in their odour. In general, however, it is important that the vegetation present be set, at least partly, at a height which is reachable by everybody, also by people in wheelchairs, to raise the degree of tactile fruition, just as it is important that there be present also stimuli of an auditory type, such as the song of birds (it can be useful to install a pigeon house), the presence of bamboo in the wind, fountains or brooks (in this case setting some obstacles in the bed where they flow enables the sound of water passing to increase).
A comfortable and effective system which allows the growth of plants at reachable heights is that of using elevated flowerbeds; inside the walls which contain such flowerbeds can be inserted plates in Braille or in magnified characters, giving the names of the plants present.
The wall can also be used for sitting on or for resting against, and its height can vary progressively in order to adapt itself to different needs.
At the base of the wall of these elevated flowerbeds is made a continuous indentation to allow people on wheelchairs to position themselves in such a way as to face them frontally. The height of such walls, in those cases in which they can not be variable as suggested above, should be 45-55 cm, and in any case, never above a meter, to allow people in wheelchairs to see what is above them, and the width should be of 90-120 cm, to allow every point of the flowerbed to be reached using hands.
A further way of using a green area in such a way as to stimulate the use of the senses consists in the creation of “nature trails”; paths along which are found means that present themselves as elements of reasoned knowledge, guided by the natural environment, by recreation and by aesthetical enjoyment.
There exist numerous vegetable species which are suitable when there is the desire to increase the possibilities of use, which in this way relies not only on sight, but which stimulates also the other senses. For a closer examination of this, see the book “an oasis for everyone”, by Maurizio Antoninetti (1991) and the file prepared especially for the course.
If an active fruition of the environment is stimulated, those species which have poisonous parts must be avoided, as for instance honeysuckle, privet, laurel, and rhododendron, while other species which have thorns or other morphological characteristics which are dangerous to touch (brambles, locust-trees, holly, roses, etc.) should be set away from the pedestrian paths. Particular attention must be given to choosing species which do not attract insects and bees, nor produce pollen which causes allergies, nor root systems which are too close to the surface.
In the file are indicated other desirable or undesirable characteristics of a lot of vegetable species.
The philosophy of planning
Apart from these purely technical considerations, it is important also to reflect on the “philosophy” of planning:
1) it is important that the planning has as its objective the creation of forms of integration for all the people who enter into a green space, through the creation of spaces or activities suitable both to heterogeneous groups of people and to individual needs; this means creating projects that have been thought up “for everyone” rather than for particular categories; those interventions created to satisfy in a specific way the specific needs of some categories of people should be perceived, as far as possible, only by their recipients and instead pass unnoticed by all the other users.
2) the two primary considerations have to be the safeguarding of the environmental characteristics of the area on which the intervention is to be performed and the safety of its fruition. Where a conflict is created between the needs for conservation and those of accessibility, the first have to have the priority. It also should be considered that maintaining a certain degree of difficulty in the fruition of a green space can have, where it does not surpass individual capacities, an important function which is both physical (the possibility to take physical exercise) and psychological (being in an environment from which every type of attrition has not been artificially eliminated leads people to confront difficulty, which in turn can lead to important processes which cause one to understand one’s limits and one’s possibilities.
3) the planning has to be as simple as possible, since the presence of an excessive number of stimuli risks to become source of confusion for the those who receive them, especially if they do not have the possibility to interpret them in an effective way; in addition, it is important to offer as many different places as possible, in order to permit everyone to create their own path, according to their own requirements and needs.
4) it would be important and opportune to involve as great a number as possible of categories of users both in the planning phase and in the maintenance, and perhaps even in its creation.
This would underline a series of demands and needs which otherwise would be difficult to predict (except for planners with great experience in the sector).
For further information on the theme of accessibility to green areas, contact Antonio Brunori, Via Quintina 40- 06087 Ponte San Giovanni PG Tel. 075/5990699 – 348/2814116 – e.mail firstname.lastname@example.org