Little Boxes – Disability and the Built Environment

Little boxes 2
Photo credit: Mahmood Salam via Foter.com / CC BY

When I was at university I did a course on community and large scale public events. As well as the practical side, there was a lot of theory on how and why communities come together to celebrate, mourn and protest. Now, I will confess that I found it somewhat tedious at the time (I was too busy panicking over the publicity for the practical project) but one term has always remained with me: ludic space.

Ludic spaces are defined as places in which significant human interaction occurs. They can be anywhere from an opera house to a village green or even a supermarket. All that matters is that people congregate there and do more than just pass the time of day. For the course, we were looking at this in terms of storytelling. But as I’ve aged it has come back to me when I look at the built environment, especially considering my limited mobility. To be honest, some places are less ludic and more ludicrous!

Ludic spaces are defined as places in which significant human interaction occurs.

Although there are many factors that influence the built environment, volume and cost are the ones that tend most to impact public consciousness. It has been widely reported that there are not enough houses being built but keeping up with volume means either quality suffers or costs rise. Is it any wonder that so many of us live in identikit houses or flats surrounded by acres of the same? Having one design that you repeat over and again means that you can pretty much do away with the architect. However, it also means the same dark passages, badly positioned stairs and poor parking facilities are reproduced ad infinitum. And what is an annoyance for many people becomes a reason for a disabled person not to move there.

The issues around access often involve a need for more space. Of course, that means fewer properties and crucially, smaller profits. As someone who often struggles to get downstairs I dream of bungalows! One storey dwellings are not profitable though due to the amount of ground space required – and so I dream for naught. However, a street of mixed dwellings would break up the monotony and could even make homeowners feel that their houses have individuality. Of course, this is speculative but it’s worth a thought given the number of people who seem to want ‘character’ properties (when you have a disability it’s easy to get sucked into the daytime telly daze so I speak from experience!)

It would be easy to claim that this means ‘Britain is running out of room’ as many tabloids and some politicians do. Looking at aerial views of the country, however, shows just why we are considered a ‘green and pleasant land.’ Living in the Staffordshire Moorlands means I can certainly attest to that; there are acres of beautiful countryside mere minutes from my door. So, this is where I suggest something rather controversial: why don’t we build on some of it?

Ultimately, perhaps we all need more space. If we are crowded on top of each other is it any wonder we’re all so stressed all the time?

Ultimately, perhaps we all need more space. If we are crowded on top of each other is it any wonder we’re all so stressed all the time? If we had a little breathing room, space for ourselves then maybe we’d seek out places to be together. And knowing our own need for space, perhaps we’d respect it in communal areas. After all a sweeping ramp can look more spectacular than the grandest staircase and a well-placed curve can be more exciting than a straight line!

Of course, this is all just a pipe-dream. It would take more than my voice to affect such a sea-change. But it is interesting to think that perhaps disabled people had it right all along. Our need for access could actually be good for society. Ultimately, wouldn’t we all just like some room to breathe and a place to make merry? And an accessible toilet so that we can regret the merrymaking in peace!

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Iain Peacock is an actor, aerialist and writer; having lived with MS for 20 years, he is a vocal supporter of disability rights and campaigns on a number of issues. He currently lives in the middle of nowhere, proving that there is gorgeous scenery mere miles from Stoke on Trent.