The IFTF Blog
Where will we see the first Universal Design cities?
This year’s Health Horizons research focuses on shifting authorities in the well-being space and here on the blog, we’ve been looking, in particular, at shifts in authority in the design of healthy places. And as the whole world’s population ages, it creates new imperatives for Universal Design—design intended to be “aesthetic and usable to the greatest extent possible by everyone, regardless of their age, ability, or status in life.” It’s still not certain who the authorities for universal design might be, but the could emerge from some surprising places.
For instance, Chiang Mai province in Thailand has become a long-stay hub for foreign seniors, especially those from Japan, (they’re expected to receive 10,000 Japanese long-stayers within five years).
According to the Nation, “the travel industry in the province has invested in multimillion-baht long-stay facilities…. And the Chiang Mai Chamber of Commerce has set aside Bt10 million [almost U.S. 334,000] to promote its long-stay program, join international roadshows and trade shows and prepare guidebooks for travel agents in those targeted countries.”
The phenomenon of long stay communities is built on a foundation of economic inequality. Despite being in back-to-back recessions for the better part of a couple decades, Japan still enjoys a relatively strong currency and many older Japanese leverage that to enjoy extended stays in foreign countries. But while I find the inequity of this relationship between peoples deeply troubling, there is also potential for interesting innovations to come out of it. For Chiang Mai, province-wide investment in built environments for seniors from both the public and private sector could result in the emergence of expansive physical spaces expressly designed for seniors’ well-being needs. Dr. Trirat Jarutach, Head of the Department of Housing Development at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, said the following in Trendnovation Southeast:
"We are already seeing attractive, modern and functional design in today’s retiree communities in Thailand, and in future we are likely to see urban design progressing even further along the lines of ‘Universal Design.’"
This reminded me a bit of the Generations Market, a pilot grocery store in Germany designed expressly for seniors, owned by the Kaiser’s supermarket chain, that we highlighted in our recently released Global Food Outlook report. Heres’s a description of the market from ABC News:
The shopping carts have magnifying glasses attached for help reading product labels. There's a seat attached to the back of the cart for the weary shopper to take a break. There are steps up to help shoppers reach items stacked high in the brightly-lit cabinets. And on the shelves, there are smaller portions for the person who lives alone and doesn't need a six-pound block of cheese to feed eight kids… Red buttons can be found throughout the store for customers to summon assistance.
This is, of course, but a single grocery store. What places like Chiang Mai, where there are economic incentives for more comprehensive universal design, points to, is the potential for whole towns created with universal design principals. Were this to play out, places like Chiang Mai could lead the world in innovating urban spaces for seniors, and could, in essence, become authorities on universal design.
[Image source: Flickr user DOULKERIDIS BOOK]