By Stuart Soffer
Insights from a Blind ArchitectUploaded: Nov 18, 2013
This week's digest of TED Talks caught my eye. The description of the first video was intriguing: a formerly sighted architect who quickly became blind, and his subsequent experiences navigating cities such as San Francisco and Oakland.
This is the tale of architect Chris Downey, who advocates designing cities "with the blind in mind", not only because that's good to do, but because the resulting product benefits the sighted as well.
"I want to propose to you today that the blind be taken as the prototypical city dwellers when imagining new and wonderful cities, and not the people that are thought about after the mold has already been cast. It's too late then. So if you design a city with the blind in mind, you'll have a rich, walkable network of sidewalks with a dense array of options and choices all available at the street level. If you design a city with the blind in mind, sidewalks will be predictable and will be generous. The space between buildings will be well-balanced between people and cars. … If you design a city with the blind in mind, you design a city with a robust, accessible, well-connected mass transit system that connects all parts of the city and the region all around. If you design a city with the blind in mind, there'll be jobs, lots of jobs. Blind people want to work too. They want to earn a living."
How does this related to the downtown specific plan? My takeaway is wide sidewalks, balancing the placement and distribution of various projects along El Camino. He talks about varying textures on the ground that provide tactile feedback for the blind, but also visual interest for the sighted.
Which reminds me of Menlo Park's ill-fated %-for Art Ordinance. When it was rescinded years ago the Council threw the baby out with the bathwater. If ever there was a need and opportunity for integrating good public art it is with the El Camino Downtown Plan. Whatever emerges on the flanking sides of El Camino it would be more admirable if there were regular reserved spots for public art.
Link to the Video
Chris Downey's Website