Part of a Whole

My name is Nicolas Steenhout.
I speak, train, and consult about inclusion, accessibility and disability.

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Rebuilding Christchurch – An Opportunity For Accessibility

Christchurch went through two devastating earthquakes in 6 months, and thousands of “smaller” quakes. People are now looking at rebuilding. It will be costly, but this is an opportunity for Chrischurch to become the most accessible city in New Zealand.

The city is, as they’ve been saying, munted. The cost estimates for rebuilding range up to NZ$30 billion. Both commercial and residential buildings have been destroyed or severely damaged.

A major issue throughout the world is that buildings are not as accessible to people with disabilities as they could be – particularly older structures. Despite New Zealand being the 1st country in the world to adopt accessibility requirements in the Building Act (way back in 1973), we still encounter a lot of new construction that isn’t disability friendly. Another problem is that the accessibility aspects of the Building Code don’t cover residential dwellings.

Accessible Housing

It’s a good idea to build housing that is accessible, or can easily be made accessible. If you have accessibility requirements, you probably already have these covered. But even if you don’t have a disability requiring accessibility modifications, it is a good idea to build with accessibility in mind.

  • Aging population: Now that baby-boomers are reaching retirement age, and many of them start having mobility issues, the demand for accessible housing is going to increase. Whether they buy new, or retrofit their own homes, the need is growing.
  • Visitability: Even if you don’t personally have accessibility needs, your friends or acquaintances may have such needs. If your house isn’t accessible, they are unable to visit you.

You don’t have to build ramps to the front entrance or put grab-bars in the bathroom. But if you plan a no-step entrance, and make sure the walls are reinforced, someone else getting in the house can later easily modify it. This is good resell value. It is more affordable to build an accessible house than to retrofit an old house to be accessible!

Accessible Commercial Premises

It is also a good idea to build commercial premises that are accessible. Both clients and employees may have accessibility requirements. Besides, it’s the law!

But setting aside the regulatory requirements, this is a chance for architects to show their skills – There is space for stunning designs that incorporate accessibility, rather than designing buildings with steps, and a big ramp on the side.

How About It?

This post is not intended to throw one more demand on the already stretched people of Christchurch. There is talk of reconstruction, and I have heard a lot of people saying the city was going to be reborn better than before, the phoenix rising from the ashes. With so much devastation, this really is an opportunity to rebuild Christchurch so all new buildings are accessible. There have been very few cities that had a "chance" to implement such widespread accessibility.

So how about it Christchurch? You’ve got to rebuild anyway – why not build accessible?

2 thoughts on “Rebuilding Christchurch – An Opportunity For Accessibility

  1. Yes, you are right, through this misfortune, there is an opportunity here to rebuild with accessibility in mind. People need to see this as an investment. I think you should push this further.

    Cheers !

  2. Spot on Nic. Build accessibility in at the start and there’s very little (if any) additional expense in the building process. It’s the *modifications* that are difficult.

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