Integrated Communities

Community is and must be inclusive.
The great enemy of community is exclusivity.
Groups that exclude others ... are not communities;
they are cliques – actual defensive bastions against community - M Scott Peck

The main thrust in my practice is to try and convince the profession of how satisfying it is to participate in making the built environment universally accessible; that the built world is an intrinsic part of this.
Green Office, Pinetown, have made it their social responsibility to support the disability sector in the highly popular Amashova Cycle Race from Pietermaritzburg to Durban. They provide tee shirts, entry fees and hospitality afterwards for a large bunch of enthusiasts, including at least two wheelchair users. The quads have to
have help to get up (and down) the hills and it’s not an easy physical job. Green Office also do about four other races in and about KZN every year. It all appears quite seamless, and everyone seems to have fun.
It was inspiring to me to see the heterogenous make up of all these people. The Green Office group is a true mixture of black and white, men and women, old and young, some really good cyclists, others who struggle. Everyone makes their own way to the start and finish, so it’s not a bussed-in effort. It is integrated in a way that makes me feel proud to be here, and part of it.

On the other hand, in dealing with the Durban Soccer Stadium, I’ve been frustrated when trying to explain that the incorporation of persons with disabilities is necessary in an integrated way. So I’ve been trying to explain to the Architectural Students in the design studio at UKZN to participate in providing environments which are inclusive. Sometimes I feel I have managed to penetrate the mindset, but at other times not. I wonder if this will become mainstream, as has the sustainable environment movement?
The KZN Heritage Act requires submission of proposals so that permits can be provided if alterations and additions for buildings older than 60 years are contemplated; including the City of Durban. I am now part of the Durban Built Environment Committee who look at these submissions and they have asked me to comment on the accessibility! The Durban beachfront, much of which falls under this Act, is having a major overhaul, and it is exciting to have some accessibility input there. I know that at those meetings I am sitting with the converted, but it is a nice change. The old Amphitheatre is going to be changed, and the sunken Victorian
gardens and the Rachel Finlayson Pool change rooms (unfortunately). The XL Tea Room is going to be demolished, the Promenade is going to be 15m wide along the whole distance and, sadly, the precast concrete edge, universally useful as a defining element (not old) to lie on, sit on, or have a picnic on, is already gone. The four firms of architects who are sharing the responsibility for these changes have been rushed into doing it quickly, mostly according to FIFA requirements, but also keeping the memories of its history.

The City Hall is also going to have all three entrances made accessible, at the same time as upgrading inside. I discourage stairlifts, so hopefully we will have integrated entrances, and can feel proud that the usual old “what else could we do?” approach has been left behind. In solving the accessibility issues, the security ones will be solved at the same time. And this will all be in a manner which pays respect to the old
building without spoiling it. Congrats to the City for taking the time to do this!
Homogenous societies such as villages for the over 50s; convents; clubs for under 40s; religious clubs; institutes for female professionals... are not really wholesome, though some people choose them, I suppose, out of fearfulness. Surely mixed groups are healthier? One can group things and people together in many ways. If a group is diverse it can be like a laminated beam and be as strong as the glue that binds it, instead of as weak as the weakest element. If environments are pleasing and uplifting and integrated it can improve the general feeling of well-being, as has been proven with the series of ‘Maggies Centres’ for cancer rehabilitation that have been built all over the world.

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