Universal Design in Landscape Architecture: Public Spaces for All

Universal Design: “The design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.”
— definition by the late architect Ronald L. Mace,  founder of the Center for Universal Design at North Carolina State University.

Universal design means many things to many people. But anyone who has used a wheelchair for mobility can tell you what it is NOT:

• A vertical platform wheelchair lift foolishly installed to provide access to beachfront shops and cafes — when the reality is keys that are required to operate the lifts get lost, sea spray rusts parts, and the enclosures around the lifts become filled with garbage or are used as bathrooms by drunken partiers.

• A park designed only with nondisabled visitors in mind, with winding staircases, inaccessible water features and barely barrier-free restrooms. The only accessibility features are ugly retrofits that accommodate disabled guests, but unacceptably segregate them from the main pedestrian routes that remain impassible to wheelers.

• Designs by architects and planners who clearly wish they could seek a zoning va