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Inclusive neighbourhoods: project develops toolkit for councils

The need to design towns and cities that support the independence of older people and those living with dementia is the “new normal”, says architect Guy Luscombe who has developed a toolkit for planners and councils.

The ageing demographic and growing number of people living with dementia, combined with increasing migration of people into cities, meant that urban areas had to be designed with these groups in mind, Mr Luscombe told the Universal  Design Conference in Sydney on Wednesday.

More than 90 per cent of older people and 70 per cent of those with dementia lived at home, which was their preference, but there nonetheless were challenges facing them, he told the conference hosted by Council on the Ageing NSW and organised by Interpoint Events.

“The question is how we can design communities that make it easier for older people and those living with dementia to get out, and more enjoyable for them to live the way they want to,” he said.

In many ways, designing for dementia meant designing for seniors and vice versa, he said, as universal design principles supported access for everyone.

Mr Luscombe has been working with Moonee Valley City Council on a new toolkit to raise community awareness of the issue and what works, and to support council planners and designers to create age and dementia friendly streetscapes and communities.

The project, which was supported by the Municipal Association of Victoria and the Victorian Department of Human Services, aimed to produce a practical guide for the design of inclusive neighbourhoods. It was based on the latest evidence as well as the views and experiences of older people and people living with dementia.

As well as a review of local and international guides, the project engaged older people on the street to determine what they liked or disliked about the neighbourhood and the access it provided.

From that, 97 tools were developed, outlining practical examples for inclusive design, which were grouped into four broad architectural categories.

However, as tools were useful but not necessarily powerful, the project then presented the information from the user perspective, and detailed what an older person needed when they ventured out onto the street, Mr Luscombe said.

The four components of the toolkit were:

  • Getting up the street (walking)
  • There and back (the journey)
  • Walking is easy (the pathway)
  • Out and about (other assistive elements)

Within these, the toolkit discussed issues such as pedestrian crossings, entrances, and wide footpaths; the number and location of places for rest; facilities such as toilets; and the nature of public lighting.

“Isolation is a huge issue so improving the local environment will improve people’s ability to get out and engage with life,” said Mr Luscombe.

“But as well as the social benefits, there are commercial benefits for the local community, as seniors go out during the day to the local shopping centre or mall, and they tend to buy locally from people they know. So it has a knock-on effect for local businesses.”

Further, the environmental impacts on people living with dementia were clear – particularly issues such as familiarity and scale, he said.

The toolkit is still in the early stages, Mr Luscombe said, and feedback from the broad aged care sector, planners and designers welcomed.

Inquiries about the new toolkit can be made to Carmel Boyce at Moonee Valley City Council, (03) 9243 1616,

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