When traveling, design stands out. It reveals clues about a culture. Open or cozy. Utilitarian or funky. Built to last or cheap construction. What’s normal at home may not translate to another place’s attitudes, climate, and terrain.
When I traveled to Salt Lake City, I noticed which architecture and materials were “new to me” to pick up on local values. Also, I forgot to pack a swimsuit so Stockton and I went shopping. That’s where I found a neat design feature, at a Target. I know, another reason to love Target. It may only be new to me, but it was hard to miss. It sat in the middle of the entire parking lot.
The design element I loved was a double row of parking spots in the center aisle, perpendicular to the store’s front doors. Reserved spaces for people with disabilities claimed the first few spots and the balance remained unreserved. A concrete path flush with the paved lot bisected the rows and led directly to the main entrance. The lot’s dark pavement contrasted against the light concrete crosswalk, giving drivers an added visual cue for alertness. Parking lots can be a hazard for pedestrians. Distracted or speeding drivers barrel around corners and down lanes like it’s the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Heads up, watch out. At this Target, pedestrians could feel safer from the moment they stepped out of the car to the moment they reached the double glass doors. Good design.
Is this lot design common out west? I don’t see the concrete walkway feature too often in Baltimore and if I do, it’s usually an elevated sidewalk with a curb. With curbs, come steps. My white cane finds them and I’m on my way. Before I used a cane, steps presented a challenge, sometimes a danger to my false-message-sending eyes. I learned to appreciate places with no steps or curbs. Anywhere a shopping cart rolls, so do I.
Many places are not flat though. Americans build up and dig down. How we access the vertical spaces depends on design choices like stairs, ramps, or elevators. So, consider a staircase. Do you see the inaccessibility it presents? If you use wheels to get around, a staircase is a barrier to entry. If you have depth perception, contrast, or balance issues, stairs challenge mobility. If you have the agility of a teetering toddler, stair climbing is not a solo activity. Bum knee? On crutches? Bet you don’t like stairs, either.
When you are alone, can you navigate steps independently? Is there a railing? If needed, is there always someone strong nearby to bounce a stroller or wheelchair up or down a flight? Accessible designs like ramps instead of steps keep people moving.
Today when you find yourself at a staircase,whether it’s at home or when you are out and about, think about what those steps mean. Our society conveys priorities through design.
Do parking lots make you nervous? Do you ever use ramps instead of stairs? What do you think about accessible design? Have you bought a swimsuit from Target? Tell me about it.