The Living Streets Scotland Walking Summit usually takes place every year in the spring as an in-person conference, but this year had to be moved online due to COVID-19.
We held three online sessions over the summer on the topic of inclusive streets, bringing in Living Streets’ staff, trustees and colleagues from the wider voluntary sector in Scotland to discuss challenges and opportunities to make streets in Scotland truly accessible for all.
The sessions touched on accessibility for older people and disabled people, community engagement in the street design process, and wider inequalities in our cities. Read on for a summary of each session and the video recordings.
Stuart Hay, Director of Living Streets Scotland, was joined by colleagues Penny Morriss and Robert Weetman to discuss our work to improve public spaces, what we've learned about barriers and perceptions of public space.
We began with an overview of Living Streets Scotland’s work on the Walking Connects project, working with older people to identify and take action on barriers to everyday walking. Alongside the physical barriers to walking such as poor quality pavements, people’s expectations from their public spaces is a key consideration for accessibility.
We know that streets that work for older people, and disabled people, almost always also work for everybody else. So by creating streets that are accessible for people with different access needs, we can create streets that are equitable and for everyone in our communities.
One issue that came up particularly in the early stages of lockdown was benches and resting places, which are essential for creating conditions where people feel able to make their everyday journeys by walking, but were sometimes closed off due to COVID-19. Even outside of the current pandemic measures, benches may not be properly looked after, and worrying about finding a place to stop and rest may be enough to discourage people from walking.
In order to address some of the barriers to accessing streets for older people, we must consider the quality of pavements and footways, the amount of space given to walking and wheeling, and the way those spaces are maintained including for people using mobility aids. The way the space is navigated is also important, as well as the feeling of whether or not a space is safe in terms of avoiding trips and falls, and whether or not people believe they will be treated well while out and about.
Walking Connects has developed a guide to help people take action for better streets in your area.
There are huge portions of Scotland where we're asking people to walk and we're asking people to cycle, and it's not currently realistic for them to do that because the infrastructure is not there.
We also introduced a draft position paper outlining our work on equalities and equity of access to public spaces, designed to acknowledge and address some of the challenges people in Scotland face when engaging with work around access to public spaces, including active travel, and our commitment to make this equitable in our own work. You can find the full paper at the bottom of this page.
We must also work to create a sense of place when making changes to make walking more accessible, and changes that are designed to help can be met with resistance if done without proper consideration. Measures to limit car use may be perceived as reducing an already limited set of options, particularly for poorer communities who tend to live further away from local amenities (as well as generally having poorer air quality). Robert worked with Cycling Scotland to assess conditions around 29 social housing sites in Scotland and found that conditions are working against people walking and cycling for various reasons, and as such measures to increase and promote active travel must bear in mind that we need to take a very broad view of barriers, beyond just improving infrastructure.
Stuart Hay was joined by Keith Robertson (Mobility and Access Committee for Scotland) and Catriona Burness from RNIB Scotland.
were quite or very concerned about access to food during lockdown.
were being careful about how they used food.
didn't have anyone in their household who could guide them.
said they were less independent than before lockdown.
RNIB has been working on the 'Coronavirus Courtesy Code' to help people stay safe and remind the public that not all disabilities are visible. You can download this guidance below, and hear more about it in the session recording.
Stuart Hay was joined by Living Streets Trustees, Shruti Jain (Public Health Scotland) and Chris Martin (Urban Movement) for a discussion on the physical and design barriers and the process of community engagement needed to involve the whole community.
Shruti introduced the Place Standard Tool, which was designed by the Scottish Government, NHS Health Scotland, and Architecture and Design Scotland to help people assess spaces and decide how to move forward effectively when trying to make changes to those spaces.
In order to be successful, we must engage people, a wide, representative range of people, in the process of identifying barriers and solutions to using public spaces, and being prepared for our original plans to change as we do so in order to meet people's real needs. If we are to properly understand and learn what people need, we must fund proper community engagement, providing staff time to allow for asking questions and listening to feedback, and sharing the planning process.
Chris emphasised that when thinking about inclusive streets, we must consider physical access but also access to opportunity and social justice as factors that influence accessibility. Strategic infrastructure and access to public transport must be considered (including cost of using public transport) alongside other things such as weather and climate, children’s ability to play and creating spaces that are safe and accessible for children and mental health.
The panel also discussed how important it is to design public spaces for people to use, and avoid focusing planning on car use.
“We have to slow speeds, change priorities and design streets for the soft and slow creatures that we are, if we're to make cities equitable.” Chris
Living Streets Scotland developed a draft position paper and shared this with attendees for feedback.
We are now pleased to be able to share the final paper, which we hope outlines what we hope to achieve through this work, and how we want to work with partners across Scotland to get there.