Monday, July 18, 2005

Disability Activists protest New Urbanism

Disability Activists at an ADAPT protest

Dear Colleagues, I am interested in your suggestions on how Disability
Studies programs and professionals in design fields might contribute to this
ongoing drive for public awareness and corporate responsibility.


-----Original Message-----
From: Lilith Finkler
Sent: Monday, July 18, 2005 11:39 AM
Subject: disabled protest New Urbanism

Activists call 'New Urbanism' to account over lack of visitability

By Eleanor Smith

Homes in New Urbanism communities are by and large neither livable nor
visitable by people with mobility impairments.


New Urbanists, whose ideas are influencing community design all over the
country, tout walkable communities, decreasing energy waste from suburban
commuters by revitalizing inner cities, and other socially advanced
principles. Proponents repeatedly assert that such home-office-store
communities, because ot their density and proximity to shopping and public
transportation, are excellent for older people who can no longer drive.

The contradiction is that, by and large, the homes constructed in these
"ideal" communities are neither livable nor visitable by people with
mobility impairments -- and not a wise choice for temporarily able-bodied
older people, either. New Urbanists have been the chief designers who,
beginning in the 1980's, brought back the "classic" multi-stepped houses
with front porches high above grade -- houses that are worse for disabled
and older people than the typical house styles of 40's, 50's, 60's, 70's
--this at a time when the aging of the population is a widely reported
trend, and younger disabled people are surviving longer than ever before.

After several years of mainly fruitless advocacy by the Disability Rights
Action Coalition for Housing
(known as DRACH) and Concrete Change, a number
of visitability advocates from Georgia and New York expressed their
displeasure by clogging the hall at the 2002 New Urbanist national
conference in New York City, some of us lying on the floor with signs
reading: "Nostalgic Front Stoop. Please step over."

This resulted in a meeting with the board, program participation
opportunities at two following conferences, and through the work of Access
Living in Chicago
, a letter of support from the Chicago-based Congress for
the New Urbanism
board of directors for the federal Inclusive Home Design

New Glenwood Park home with lots of steps.

But in practice New Urbanists still crank out dense communities of new,
grossly inaccessible homes.


Visitability advocates in Atlanta worked hard at educating the developers of
the much-ballyhooed projected New Urbanist community, Glenwood Park, for
several years before ground was broken, because it was clear that community
would be held up as a model for years to come.

Besides the balloons, activists handed out house-shaped fans that said,
"Basic Access to Every New Home: One zero-step entrance, 32-inch doors!"


Checking and photographing the houses under construction, Atlanta-area
Concrete Change participants were outraged to see that inaccessibility was
rampant, with steps at every entrance -- in many cases so steep they could
never be retrofitted, let alone visited by a disabled friend -- and narrow
bathroom doors.

So, at Glenwood Park's grand opening in June, fifteen wheelchair users and
nine walking supporters arrived, representing DRACH, ADAPT, People First,
and Georgia Voices That Count.

The advocates circulated among the crowd, distributing fliers and carrying
balloons that said "Welcome-If Not Disabled" and passing out house-shaped
fans that said, "Basic Access to Every New Home: One zero-step entrance,
32-inch doors!" The strategy was to have a multitude of personal
conversations with the attendees.

By time the formal grand opening program took place, much of the crowd
understood and supported our issue. There was loud applause when a Glenwood
Park developer announced from the stage that, although they had done many
things right in their new development, they had fumbled on visitability. He
pledged to hold a training of their builders.

I will be presenting the training, and advocates will be watching to see
what actually occurs in practice as the next houses go up.

Posted July 11, 2005.

Eleanor Smith is the founder of Concrete Change.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Your statements are inaccurate. The homes do NOT have acccess at the back. When the high sides of the lots were at the front, the houses had several entry steps at the front and more at the back. When the high side of the lots were at the back, approached by an alley, as were many of the houses, the developers ignored every opportunity for access...even though we had approached them with possibilities long before ground was broken. There is a step up to the back patios, another from patio to house, and the other missed opportunity is that there is a step up from the attached garages. Inside, the bathroom doors are very narrow even though there is wall that could have been door. The exception to the narrow bathroom door was the show house. I live three miles from Glenwood Park, checked the property many times,
and took the director of the Congress for the New Urbanism there on a tour when he was visiting Atlanta from Chicago. In that process he moved from being someone who thought I had unfairly criticized the developers to one who saw that the developers had in fact blown off easy access opportunities. Afterwards, he made several public statements to that least once in writing.

Eleanor Smith, writer of the article in Ragged Edge