(Un)Urban Day 3: Diversity and Difference in Public Spaces

I woke up late this morning and had to quicken my pace as I rushed to school, but it was really worth it because I managed to come in just in time before the three panellists for today’s discussion began their speeches. While the panel theme was “Diversity in East London”, I felt that each speaker’s key points revolved around an overarching theme of understanding how different people used and perceived public spaces in London, and this is useful for our upcoming project as it gave us a glimpse of how the diverse groups of people we would be working with in East London may have differential access to space.

My main takeaway from Judy’s talk was that the design of green spaces, rather than their mere presence, affects how different groups of people may potentially use or refrain from using it, and that this is determined by multiple cross cutting identities, of which she identified age, disability, gender, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion and belief and sexual orientation as identities which implicate how space is experienced. Nikolay emphasized the social construct of ethnicity and challenged the notion that ethnic diversity correlates negatively with levels of trust. He suggested that this could instead be channelled into the creation of tolerant multicultural societies where diversity leads to higher levels of security and insularity within enclaves. Our last panellist Tim pointed out that urban design flaws (such as high curbs, fences or barriers) limited accessibility but can be corrected, giving Oxford Circus’s redevelopment as an example. I liked his ideas on propriety and ownership of public spaces, as I think it’s true that we all need to recognize ourselves as owners or citizens accountable for acting responsibly in public spaces for the benefit of others, and similarly, following this line of thinking, we need to act on behalf of minority or marginal others to design space that fulfils their right to inhabit the city as well.

After the panel discussion, we set out to come up with a solution to create inclusive public spaces for the elderly in Hackney Wick around QEOP through a collaboration between IROKO, an African cultural theatre company and the LLDC. I liked how our group came up with ideas rapidly and worked towards a project draft and timeline, for our Love themed outdoors event line up around the park, bringing in different elements like cooking, storytelling and performance to include as many groups of people and bridge the gap between the young and old. I could actually visualize the project coming to fruition, but I personally felt like this idea may not work to the strengths of our given organization (IROKO) so I wasn’t too sure if that practical aspect needed to be taken into consideration. I guess brainstorming sometimes gets us carried away, but that’s when the most creative ideas get uncovered, and that’s a good thing.

In the afternoon session, we completed our Human-Centred Design workshop, which cumulated in the presentation of our prototype through storyboarding and props. It’s truly amazing how 24 hours ago, the personas we created and their associated problems existed only as figments of our imagination and today they came to life. Throughout this process of divergent and convergent thinking phases, I constantly felt like I was just swept along a tide because we were put under time constraints to think out of the box and somehow or another, the problems and solutions we came up with seemed more real and tangible the more we build them up. I think it would have been better if we could be given real scenarios to work with rather than simply with our own assumptions, that way the solutions we came up with could be more grounded and practical. I’m looking forward to our fieldwork in East London next week when we really investigate issues from the ground up, but I think this design project was a fun and insightful challenge for all of us.

Here are some photos of the projects we came up with, including an tube app for the visually impaired, a station map and special lane for the physically disabled, a tube exit locator, an app for streamlining property agent’s commuting time using virtual reality and improving the design of tube stations to bring commuters closer to nature.


– group 4 🙂


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