Towards building a city for all of the people

Photo Nyan Zay Htet, Zarni Phyo, Theint Mon Soe/The Myanmar Times

​26 Nov 18 - Source: Myanmar Times - An inclusive city should consider the convenience and comfort of all its residents, rich and poor alike, young and old; the health and the weak, said Joyce Chou, a founding member of Mircrosoft's Inclusive Design Team.

Chou was last week's main speaker in the "We Make Yangon" talk series initiated by Doh Eain social enterprise, which aims to generate ideas for urban planners who are helping in the redevelopment of Yangon, the country's economic capital.

The Microsoft executive shared information about inclusive designs with its partners around the world that is aimed to empower every person in the planet.

Chou's talk focused on creating an inclusive Yangon that provides opportunities for all its residents across all age, gender, socio-economic, ethnic and religious backgrounds. The event drew a significant number of people eager to learn about the concept. 

Key to achieving inclusive design is to recognize exclusion, the executive said.

She explained the importance of design and design concepts, and how design should take into account human diversity, and be an engine for innovation and inclusion.

She used slides whenever necessary to emphasise her explanations on inclusive design. Simply put, the concept requires that whenever anyone thinks about design, they should think about inclusive functions and the diversity of people that would be using it.

People should first ask themselves who is excluded and designers then come up with solutions to address the question.

A good example of this is the question of who is often overlooked in aspects of urban design. Realising that the disabled and wheelchair users are often not remembered, designers came up with "kerb cuts", slopped portions along sidewalks that make things easier for wheelchairs to move from the road to the pavement.

As an added benefit, this element of urban design also makes things easier for other people to move from pavement to road or vice versa. Chou cited this as an example of how thinking about an excluded demographic brings benefits to others.

She explained that the three main principles of inclusive designs would be, recognising exclusion, taking into account diversity and differences, and offering choice when a single solution cannot accommodate all. 

Another example about inclusivity or the lack of it in Yangon are the pedestrian bridges. Some of these bridges are equipped with escalators while many do not. The provision of escalators would make it easier for the elderly to use the bridges rather than endanger themselves crossing the city's busy roads. Inclusive design would require that urban planners think about differences in the elderly and the general population.

In the city's parks which often have playgrounds for children and an exercise area for adults, there appears to be little thought for the disabled, which will find it hard to have access to many areas of the park.

"Designs are meant for making things better for end users. A city is also meant to be inclusive. If not, there might be some people who cannot enjoy life in the city," she said. "They also want to contribute their talents to the community they live in and should not be excluded. This is the way how a city should be adapted to take into consideration the needs of many."

San Lin Tun is a freelance writer of essays, poems and short stories. 

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