Urban Transformation

Why designing an accessible and inclusive city goes beyond affordability

A disabled parking bay, illustrating the need for accessible cities

Cities need to be accessible for all Image: Photo by Jakub Pabis on Unsplash

Takashima Soichiro
Mayor of Fukuoka, City of Fukuoka
Nona Yehia
Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder, Vertical Harvest
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Cities and Urbanization

This article is part of: Centre for Urban Transformation
  • Accessible cities involve designing and building more intentionally inclusive infrastructure for the vulnerable of the community, especially the elderly and the disabled.
  • Both the public and private sectors can enable real progress towards creating urban places and spaces for all citizens, as diverse examples from Fukuoka, Japan and the United States show.
  • Prioritizing accessibility provides individual and wider community benefits and upfront investment in accessibility can save more costly care interventions.

How 'accessible' a city is to its citizens is often viewed through the cost of living or a similar economic lens. While affordability is a critical factor, accessibility within an urban context goes beyond this. It includes a myriad of ways both public and private sectors can make cities more inclusive.

Accessible cities must design and build more intentionally inclusive infrastructure for their vulnerable people – those of us, like the elderly who account for over 12% of the global population, and the disabled, who account for one in six people globally.

Both the public and private sectors can enable real progress towards creating a place and a space for all citizens. Our diverse stories, from redesigning Fukuoka city in Japan to better support the elderly, and innovating with social entrepreneurship in the United States to offer gainful employment to those with disabilities, show how taking action for more accessible and inclusive cities is within all our grasps, no matter which geography or sector we work in.


How is the World Economic Forum promoting sustainable and inclusive mobility systems?

How the public sector designed a dementia-friendly city

Japan has one of the world’s oldest populations and a low birth rate. By 2025, one in five of those 65 years or older are expected to suffer from dementia. Fukuoka, Japan is pioneering efforts to become a dementia-friendly city so that residents may live with peace of mind in their communities, even if they suffer from cognitive decline.

The Fukuoka Dementia-Friendly City Project brings together government, healthcare, private enterprises, universities and citizens to design a dementia-friendly city. The project includes strategies, programmes and infrastructure to ensure patients continue to live vibrantly in their community. Classes teach residents how to communicate with and care for patients with the French method Humanitude; 180 seminars have already been taken by 8,375 people. The city signed a charter named Humanitude sans Frontieres to share the method across borders.

Fukuoka’s dementia-friendly design guidelines have been adopted in over 50 facilities and city signage helps patients safely navigate the city. The city-established Orange Talent Bank has introduced 138 people with dementia to 14 partner companies so that those with light symptoms find appropriate work and can live actively for longer. Finally, a dedicated centre designed for learning and working with dementia recently opened and has been recognized with a gold accreditation from the Dementia Services Development Centre at Scotland's University of Stirling.

Have you read?

How a private sector indoor farming company employs the excluded

Vertical Harvest is trying to build the future we all want from the food we all need. It has designed its business model around customized employment for under-employed populations, such as the disabled community, while also prioritizing accessibility and affordability within its urban farm food systems.

The company’s Grow Well Model makes green jobs in the fast-growing sector of controlled environment agriculture accessible to people with disabilities by recruiting, training and retaining people historically excluded from meaningful employment. Roles are customized to each employee and the organization invests in wrap-around services, including financial literacy, coordination of health care, transportation/mobility opportunities and securing accessible housing to make stable economic employment more accessible for the 40% of their staff who have a disability.

Image: Vertical Harvest

Its Community-as-Customer approach positively impacts accessibility and affordability in urban food systems by flowing high volumes of fresh, farm-to-fridge produce, not only into the retail and culinary sectors, but also into stalwart community institutions, such as school systems, hospitals, nursing homes, correctional facilities and college campuses. Via indoor growing, the company provides consistently high volumes, year-round – with low-income/low-access channels supported through both donation and grant partnerships.

This commitment to inclusivity on both the food and jobs front has helped build a brand that matters to the community and benefits from strong loyalty and love (NPS of +94). In this way, the company and its community stakeholders deliver:

• Global change, built locally – as they scale to a national network of local farms.

• People fed and fulfilled – because the cultivation of healthy food and meaningful jobs transforms lives, especially in economically underserved communities.

• Fuel for a healthier future – because real, whole food can help create a seat at the table for everyone.

Both the public and private sectors are critical to creating inclusivity and accessibility in cities

These stories show that prioritizing accessibility creates and holds space in our cities for the vulnerable – and in that space is a path to social and economic inclusivity and affordability. When accessibility is intentional, citizens can continue to engage and stay connected. This is good for the individual’s quality of life, independence and pride of place. It’s also critical for the wider community, where upfront investment in accessibility can save more costly care interventions and offer peace of mind that we’re all welcome in our homes and neighbourhoods, even if our circumstances change.

Solutions can come from both the public and private spheres – and achieve amplified impact when leveraged in tandem. Our stories offer key insights for furthering accessibility:

Work across sectors – Consider for whom, why and how each major system (economic, transportation, healthcare, education, wayfinding, etc.) in your city can be improved so that it is more inclusive.

Find ways to pair different sources of capital – Source, connect and align incentives of public and private sources of capital to achieve more inclusive and accessible outcomes.

Work with and not just for the community – Conduct community engagement and 'listening and learning' efforts to develop a deep understanding of the unique accessibility opportunities in your city and what to prioritize.

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