The development industry must work harder to ask ‘difficult questions’ over diversity and accessibility. But the rewards could be not only a fairer society which looks after all its citizens but ‘astronomical’ power and profit to those businesses that listen.
That was the view of Irish writer activist, academic, broadcaster and ‘fashionista’ Sinead Burke as she gave giving the opening speech last night at LREF in its new location this year, the Honourable Artillery Garden in the City.
Burke is perhaps most famous for her TED Talk ‘why design should include everyone’, and she played on that theme, describing the battle she often has as someone who suffers from achondroplasia - dwarfism that means she is around three feet five inches tall.
‘My disability comes about not through dwarfism, but because this world, which many of you are involved in the creation of, was designed, built and architected without ever considering somebody like me’, she said.
Burke said she still lives at home partially because she faces issues over various design issues in rented accommodation such as kitchens, wardrobes and bathrooms – but the main one was not being able to reach the height of the lock on the hall door, an immediate signal to people like her that she is not wanted.
But there is an opportunity here in the design of public spaces to make them suitable for people like her but also for children, she said, for example in the design of washrooms and sinks. Only two places in Ireland - Dublin Zoo and Ikea - have managed to design such facilities. The disabled population globally is the size of China, Burke said, which is one billion people. ‘And they have a spending power of seven trillion US dollars. I want to give you my money, time and resources but you’re also missing out on a pool of talent that could expand your business beyond your imagination’
We can change this through collaboration and having ‘difficult conversations’, said Burke, internally and externally rather than shying away from reality. ‘The power and profit that it will bring to your business is astronomical’.
With a broad theme of ‘people, not property’ the LREF show – featuring some 300 speakers – begins officially this morning and finishes on Thursday evening with a cricket match, weather permitting.
Another speaker at the Crown Estate-backed launch – Islington Council leader Richard Watts said it was an important principle in a world where the development industry needs to listen to the public more and more. How, he asked, can development work for the people already resident as well as for those who want to live there in the future?
By David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly