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Design for Diversity – Welcome the 99%

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At OpenCity, we have spent the last seven years learning about what motivates diverse people to spend time in a place and connect with others. Design for Diversity is a new way of viewing, planning and designing public space through a lens of inclusion and diversity. Over the coming weeks we will unpack the Design for Diversity manifesto to ease planners and city lovers into the practice. “Welcome the 99%” is all about creating inclusive public spaces as a key to good urban design. 

Creating inclusive spaces is simply good design. So why is it that so many public spaces lack a hospitable atmosphere? Sterile public spaces are unfortunately common  in our cities. Either through their physical layouts, lack of seating or excessive commercialisation they communicate to the public that they are not welcome. The creeping privatisation of public spaces in cities like New York and London is creating a polarizing effect among users of public spaces. This fragmentation has serious implications for the future of city life and the implicit and explicit purpose of their public spaces.

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Successful intercultural spaces exude a sense of welcome, regardless of one’s background or identity. These spaces are relaxed, open environments that invite people to come as they are and encourage them to be themselves. They celebrate culture and acknowledge diversity through design features or communal activities that can include symbols, language, colour, music, food, and play.

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Welcoming elements can be found in all of Design for Diversity’s study locations. Parkdale Library, located in Toronto’s west-end, is like a second home to its diverse local community which includes Tibetans, Vietnamese, Poles, and Tamils. The friendly, multilingual staff, resources and programs make visitors feel welcome to use the space. Brightly coloured food stalls at Scadding Court’s Market 707 draw people in from off the street to spend time in a relaxed, open environment regardless of whether they are buying or just browsing. Located between Chinatown, the University of Toronto and public housing to the south, Kensington Market is a densely populated low-income neighbourhood compared to the city average. The vibrant streetscape conveys an energy and openness through music, offerings of different foods and affordable retail that make people from different backgrounds feel like they belong and can participate in the commercial life of the district.

Design for Diversity aims to encourage city builders to create inclusive spaces that communicate ‘welcome’. By using key tactics outlined in our upcoming toolkit,  we can create inclusive experiences where all users feel like they belong regardless of their age, socio-economic background, religion or ethnicity. The best public spaces are ones where you can feel at home among strangers and where those strangers can come to feel like friends.

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Niki Angelis is addicted to good urban design, investigating emerging trends in planning and people-centred public spaces.  Niki currently works in community engagement in Toronto and has participated in several projects dealing with alternative design guidelines, participatory planning and capacity building in both developed and developing city contexts.

Lead photo by City of Toronto from Flickr CC

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