Enrique Rovira-Beleta, lecturer of the subject Accessibility, gives us a closer look at accessible parks: ‘I would like to see more smell-related parks and enrich park design around human senses

Accessibility lecturer at UIC Barcelona School of Architecture, Enrique Rovira-Beleta says, “A truly accessible playground from a constructive approach would be one in which all children, with whatever ability they may have, and their families, mothers, fathers and older family members, can enjoy everything.”

From a constructive approach, he believes that accessible parks would have to have materials with different textures, colours, smells, sounds… “I would like more smell-related parks because there are already colour-related parks, but we must include all the human senses in the design of these parks,” he commented.

According to lecturer and director of the Postgraduate Degree in Universal Accessibility and Design for All, a completely accessible park can only be achieved if the people designing it are sufficiently well trained in accessibility. “As architects, we have to increase and improve our understanding about accessibility. This subject matter must be compulsory as it is at UIC Barcelona School of Architecture, the only university in Spain and of the few in the world that has it,” the lecturer said.

His view is that parks will be completely inclusive and accessible when all professionals involved in their design fully understand accessibility requirements. “The question isn’t about making a special design, but that the design includes everything, and that it isn’t noticed as such.” Training is needed: from the person making the playground equipment to the person in charge of trimming shrubbery around the park to make games and funny shapes with the different plants and flowers. And landscapers must understand and know why they are making those shapes. Scents and colours of the plants and flowers and even tree sounds can be enhanced. That is accessibility and that will be the parks of the future,” Rovira-Beleta stated.

In order to translate accessibility to parks and school yards, he believes that facilities are needed, and collaboration of good teachers as well. “As architects, we can make pathways with materials and colours that lead you to a place, and teach it to the teachers so they in turn can teach it to the children. It is not only an architecture issue, the issue is that all universities should have a course subject on accessibility, for training journalists, teachers, psychologists, educators, etc. School playgrounds are not going to change; you can make playgrounds of grass or soil, asphalt, with different colours and textures, however what is missing is the teachers who encourage playing” for all children, he said.

Rovira-Beleta believes that an accessible park does not have imply any additional cost, if these issues are included in the original park design and material execution budget. The problem arises when items that were not anticipated originally are added later.

Although he thinks that there is still some way to go to reach an inclusive society, he believes that since the Olympic Games and specifically the Paralympic Games, Barcelona is a benchmark in the world of accessibility. “In the terms of accessibility, Barcelona and Spain are among the top ranked accessible cities and countries in the world. Now the rest of the world is copying us; before we went to Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden because they were the most advanced countries in removing barriers for mobility, but they made everything special for people with disabilities in mind. Since the Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games, we have seen that all environments and buildings can be made for all people with no noticeable difference. But there is a lack of greater quality assurance and supervisory control. We specialists are here to supervise and give a seal of quality,” explained the specialist, who was the architect in charge of the accessibility plans for the 1992 Olympic and Paralympic Games of Barcelona, the 2004 Universal Forum of Cultures in Barcelona and 2008 Expo Zaragoza, among others. He is also an expert member of the Accessibility Council of the Generalitat de Catalunya. Furthermore, he continued hat Barcelona is one of the few cities in the world that has a Municipal Institute for People with Disabilities. Association representatives and their technicians are trained in-house, and one person from the Institute advises municipal technicians from the ten districts of Barcelona.

He believes that the aging of society will lead to improvements in accessibility and also in parks. “People demand accessibility because society has aged and people are realising that making everything accessible is always an improvement. All children have some reduced mobility because being short, they can’t reach things at higher levels or can’t read certain types of texts, and they can trip over curbs.  Currently, different companies are promoting inclusive playground equipment (slides, swings),” Rovira-Beleta pointed out.

The Postgraduate Degree in Accessibility: Universal Design Specialist allows students to specialise in accessibility, through a hands-on interactive online programme. Many of the students later become leaders in this field in their respective countries, and work for their governments to improve accessibility regulations and their practical application.

Image: Unplash / Eric Tompkins.