of Equipped Green
The fundamental role of the Doctor of Agronomy and
the Doctor of Forestry
The concept of accessibility generally refers to an absence of
architectural barriers: according to Monzeglio (1990), the meaning
of the term architectural barriers goes well beyond the simple
concept of the physical obstacle; in fact the concept " can mean
both a single element and a whole space, projected and/or built in
such way as not to adequately conform to the physical, psychic, and
intellectual characteristics of its use and resulting, in
consequence, in an impediment to a free, sure, autonomous, and
In accordance with this enlightened affirmation, we will refer
therefore, while talking of accessibility to all green areas, to the
elimination or to the reduction of any level of fruition of Nature,
also culturally speaking, as well as sensorially and physically, in
the narrowest sense.
The planning of accessible green areas can concern both spaces to be
created "ex novo" and natural areas that do not have constructed
In fact, by "green areas" are generally meant the urban setups
(public gardens, urban parks, game areas for children), that is,
those which are suburban (natural parks, paths and nature trails),
or those places where games, recreational and of the leisure time
activities can be developed, in contact with nature.
One of the presuppositions of planning "green" areas which are
indeed suitable for everyone is that of considering the needs of
every possible category of user, refusing the artificial definition
of a standard person on which to plan the characteristics of the
project; thus, together with those of normal-bodied people, the
needs of those people that find difficulty in carrying out normal
daily activities, either permanently or temporarily, will also have
to be taken into consideration.
To be considered, therefore, are not only disabled people in the
narrow sense of both motory and sensorial disability, but also the
so-called "weak users":
- elderly people,
- pregnant women;
- traumatized people;
- people affected by chronic illnesses (allergies,
cardio-respiratory illnesses, etc.);
- people that accompany individuals in wheelchair or children in
Each of the categories listed above, just like each different type
of disability, expresses a range of needs that are different from
the others. It is necessary to know these, even if only in a
superficial way, in order to come up with a suitable solution.
The central point still remains the search for a solution that leads
to an integration, rather than to a segregation, of the different
categories of users in specialized spaces (a classical example of
which is the "garden for the blind"), that end up becoming gilded
ghettos, not at all frequented by those people for which they were
An obstacle that is often placed in the way of creating measures to
make the natural spaces accessible resides in the presumed
incompatibility of possible changes with the protection of the
native characteristics of the environment. In reality, on one hand
the changes asked for are often of a modest impact, both from an
aesthetic point of view and also from an economic one, requiring
more sensitivity and attention to details and not a great employment
of means. On the other hand, it has no pretension of being able to
make areas accessible when this clearly can not be, but simply to
provide everybody with opportunities and possibilities.
General planning criteria
First of all must be considered what concerns directly the
accessibility to a space, or rather, the demolition of the
architectural barriers, both physical barriers and perceptive ones.
In this respect, it must be remembered that people on wheelchairs,
who we generally think about when we speak of architectural
barriers, constitute in reality only the smallest part of the
population of disabled people, and therefore, when speaking of
accessibility and of architectural barriers, we need to refer to the
needs of people belonging to numerous different categories.
Furthermore, the concept of accessibility is connected not only to
that of mobility, but also to that of comfort, safety and the
elimination and attenuation of the sources of uneasiness and
fatigue, as proposed by the legislation in force on the issue.
The first phase in the planning of a green space of whatever type
has to be that of a survey of the existing situation, with the aim
of appraising what spaces can indeed be made accessible, on the
basis of the following considerations:
· reachability: that is to say, the possibility of reaching a green
space autonomously, both with public and private transport;
· physical characteristics of the zone and the paths which are
present: length, width, inclination, type of surface, presence of
ramps or stairs, dimensions of the space which has to be free from
· means for orientation: a system of signs, brochures,
audiocassettes and other sources of information on the
characteristics of the paths, on the presence of points of interest
or danger, on the time it takes to follow a route, etc.;
· the infrastructures present: seating or picnic areas, washrooms,
waste bins, drink fountains, shelters, etc.
Below will be analyzed in detail each of the four aspects just
The area in question should be reached by public transport services
and foresees a number of suitable parking spaces for private
vehicles; with regards to the latter, two points have to be borne in
mind: the dimension standards foreseen by law (width 3.60 m, which
is greater than normal to allow an easier access for people with
wheelchairs) and the distance from the entrance of the area, that
should not be more than the 30 meters.
Ideally there should also be an area immediately adjacent to the
entrance for the ascent and descent of people, together with a
waiting area, set at the same level and separated from it through
little posts which signal this partition. Since for many people
there is a reduction of mobility, elements of interest must be
prepared in proximity of the place which can be reached by both
private and public transport. In addition, inside every space should
be guaranteed a clear separation between any vehicular traffic
present (including bicycles) and pedestrians.
Physical characteristics of the route
The area has to be accessible and usable, intending by accessible
the possibility of entering into a structure, both closed and open,
through suitable accesses and to be able to move around inside it,
and by usable the possibility of autonomously using the equipment
and the furnishing employed in the green areas, also including the
vegetation present in them. The characteristics considered here will
be: the length, width, inclination and terrain of the pedestrian
path, the presence of stairs, ramps and of a free space along and
around the route.
- length: it is important that the existing routes all offer
destinations of interest, so as to give motivation and an objective
to those who follow them; ideally a series of routes of different
length and difficulty should be created to reach the same
destination, so as to leave each person the possibility to choose,
through an self-evaluation of their opportunities, in correspondence
to their own capacities.
The briefest routes should also have, however, some elements of
interest along the journey, so as to not make them appear to be
simple shortcuts, or secondary routes in comparison to "normal"
ones. However, for disabled people, the practicable length of a
route should not be more than a kilometre.
The possibility of renting motor vehicles of small dimensions
(electric scooters) would greatly facilitate the mobility inside
spaces containing great and medium-sized dimensions; the renting of
wheelchairs could also be useful and could be used not only by
disabled people, but also by elderly people or those with limited
- width: the minimum width of the paths should be of 1.20 m to allow
the contemporary passage of a wheelchair and a person; at regular
intervals in the areas, a greater width should be allowed ( at least
1.80 m), to facilitate the passage of two wheelchairs; where
possible, the creation of paths with a constant width of 1.80-2.00 m
is, however, desirable. The curvature radius has to allow baby
carriages to turn and therefore not be less than 140 cm.
- inclination: the maximum inclination allowed, even by law, is of
8%; in reality it should not be more than 5%, with the creation in
this case of areas of rest every 15 m.
If the value of inclination is more than 5%, the rest areas have to
be placed at 10 meters distance from each other.
It would also be preferable for the inclination not to be more than
It is also important to consider the transversal inclination, that
has to be between 0.5 and 1%, to allow a normal flow of water
without becoming dangerous for circulation.
· the terrain has to be sufficiently compact and level, and has to
be free from any element which can be an obstacle, such as stones,
protruding roots, etc.; some arboreal species (maples, cypresses,
beech trees, black poplars, plane-trees, willows) have surface root
systems that make their presence unsuitable in the immediate
proximities of pedestrian paths;
· any “joints” in the terrain should be avoided, if possible, or in
any case, be small in size;
· surfaces: the materials to be used can be of different types.
In general, "soft" materials (earth, grass, shattered and pressed
rock, etc.) have the tendency to become irregular and difficult to
go along, and furthermore erode without bearing great traffic; they
have high maintenance costs but low installation costs; in the case
of grass, it is possible to attenuate the irregularities by placing
rows of honeycombed blocks, or similar materials, below the surface
of the grass.
Hard surfaces (asphalt, cement or levelled earth) are instead
regular and stable, ice and snow can easily be removed from them;
the costs of installation are high, but maintenance costs are low;
other surfaces, of varying types (pebbles, stone paving, wooden
disks with sand, etc.), have large joints and irregular surfaces,
and can be damaged by ice and snow; they have moderate costs of
maintenance and installation.
To make the routes accessible ancient techniques can also be adopted
effectively. These are based in particular on the compaction of
inert material, particularly suitable in spaces which have an
elevated historical value, in which other methods result too
Where it is not possible to make the terrain accessible due to its
physical characteristics, an extreme solution can be adopted,
consisting in the creation of a raised wooden gangway placed on a
metallic structure anchored to the ground.
Surfaces that produce annoying reflections must be avoided, as these
can become dangerous when at times they impede sight.
- ramps: ramps, created to allow even people in wheelchairs to
overcome differences in level, become tiring, however, if they are
too long, even if they have a minimum inclination, and therefore
should not be more than 10 m in length, overcoming a difference in
level of 1.2 m. However; where this is not possible, there should be
rest areas every 10 m. Before and after a ramp, as with staircases,
there should be some free space of at least 1.5 m in length on the
- stairs: the most comfortable dimensions foresee a width of at
least 28 cm, with a maximum height of 15 cm.
Single steps should never be made for they are hard to perceive; the
presence of any single steps and of ramps of staircases must be
signalled by different surface design or by strips of colour which
contrast with the terrain (which must never be in grass, given its
There should be contemporarily the presence of both stairs and
ramps: if for people in wheelchairs stairs constitute at times an
insurmountable obstacle, they results instead to be advantageous
points of reference for the visually disabled, and on the other
hand, ramps result to be dangerous for people who move with mobile
supports (crutches, etc.) because the risk of slipping increases.
- free space: the pedestrian routes have to introduce free space, in
which branches or other dangerous elements (for example signs or
protruding benches), are not to be found. These must be at least
2.00 m in height and of equal width to the path plus 30 cm on both
of its sides; the presence of trees with drooping branches (birch
trees, willows) near the paths should be avoided.
With regards to a summary of the morphological characteristics of
the routes, it can be useful to give a distinction made by Monzeglio,
who divides them into five classes.
Means of orientation
All the information given should be as simple as possible to read
and to understand, in order that everyone may understand it, even
people with learning difficulties; in addition, the kinds of
information should contemporarily exploit different sensory
channels, so that it always gives a possibility to whoever is unable
to use a determinate sensory channel in an effective way.
Since a lot of people have difficulty in orientation and low speeds
of movement, it is preferable to concentrate different things of
interest in short spaces, always paying attention to avoid the
overlap of too great a number of stimuli.
a) It is useful for those who are hypo-sighted to have colours which
contrast with the landscape, for instance to define the contour of
the pedestrian paths, to put in evidence the presence of benches and
other useful infrastructure, or to signal the presence of elements
of danger (steps, surfaces of water, etc.);
b) Making the contours of the pedestrian paths stand out in a clear
way permits to provide an important means of orientation and can,
for example, be obtained by raising the edges of the paths in
comparison to the surface trodden, with the kerb that can also be
perceived not by the blind who move by using a stick; another way
can be that of placing some banks of grass or hedges close to the
paths covered in asphalt.
The presence of kerbs with a height of 10-12 cm is desirable,
particularly where there are dangerous situations.
c) one thing which is very useful for the orientation of people with
visual disabilities is the creation of surfaces with different
patterns; it is possible in this way to create a code, to be given
on entering the area, with which to transmit a series of information
(presence of dangers, of points of interest, the direction in which
the path should be followed, etc.). Different patterns can be
obtained in different ways: strips of different materials (pebbles,
wood, asphalt) slightly raised in comparison to the level of the
path and set perpendicular to the direction, corresponding to those
elements whose presence wants to be communicated;
d) the presence of a map of the area set near the entrance is
important; on it should be placed as much information as possible;
there exist maps in relief that can be read by visually disabled
people (Ondertoller and Todaro,1997).
Even any eventual descriptive panels disseminated inside the area
should also be made with characters in relief and magnified (the
single characters should be more than16 mm and of a colour which
contrasts with the background), written also in Braille and set so
as to be tilted 45° in comparison to the vertical axis to allow an
easier reading of it.
The signs present must be positioned in an area that is external to
the paths at a distance of less than at least 25 cm, so as not to
hamper its practicability, and at a height of 140 cm from the ground
(or in any case at a distance between 125 and 165 cm) with a
constant coherent positioning, or rather, for instance, always on
the right of the path or always on its left; a similar criterion
should be communicated to the visitor to the entrance of the area;
e) in particular for the visually disabled people, it is possible to
foresee the opportunity to furnish a cassette recorder at the
entrance, if possible with instructions in Braille on the back, and
audiocassettes on which is recorded all the necessary information
for visiting the area in an autonomous way; the cassettes could also
be placed on sale via mail on request in order to permit people to
plan the visit in advance.
In the most sophisticated versions, it is possible to install a
local audio network underground that has connections in
correspondence to points of particular interest; people can plug
headphones given to them at the entrance to these and listen to
descriptions of these elements of interest.
It is an expensive system to install but is of a permanent nature
and apart from being particularly effective, it does not seem to be
subject to vandalism.
f) the creation of brochures in Braille is naturally useful for
visually disabled people, even if it must be remembered that only a
minor percentage of the blind is able to read Braille, and therefore
this means needs to be integrated by other systems which transmit
There follows a brief description of the principal infrastructures
that must be considered when one desires to make an existing space
accessible or when a new one is planned:
· seating areas: there have to be frequent seating area since the
elderly, who have difficulty in mobility or reduced physical energy,
have to be able to have the possibility to rest.
They must be created close to places of interest, and positioned in
such a way as to make it possible to be both in the shade and in the
sun, in relation to seasonal variations.
The benches must be made so that they are comfortable and allow
people to get up and sit down easily; for this reason they will have
to have a width of 60 cm for person, be 40-45 cm deep, and 45-50 cm
in height from the ground. They also have to have armrests (placed
15-20 cm above the seating space) and backs.
In addition, the inclination between front and back has to be of 5º,
while that of the backs has to be at most 10° from the vertical
axis, and the height of the armrests 20-23 cm from the seating
space. In front of the benches there must be left a space of 60 cm
in order to allow people to stretch their legs without obstructing
people walking along the pedestrian paths; furthermore, next to each
bench must be left a space of 90 cm to allow people in wheelchairs
to draw up alongside. The material used to make the benches must not
chip, nor be subject to rapid changes in temperature (the best
material in this sense is wood).
The rest areas should be protected from extreme atmospheric
conditions as much as possible, and in particular should be
protected from wind through the use of barriers, preferably of a
vegetable nature. The best results are obtained from the use of
semi-permeable barriers, which do not create phenomena of
· waste baskets: these will have to be at a height of 100 cm, and
have a horizontal element of support above the basket, of a height
between 120 and 140 cm;
· drinking fountains: the most suitable are those in the form of an
upturned L that allow two different heights of drinking, the lower
placed at 75 cm from the ground for children and people wheelchairs,
the upper at a height of 110 cm. The controls will have to be
manually lever-operated and usable with only one hand;
· handrail: the presence of a handrail appears to have multiple
utility. They can in fact serve to protect from any possible sources
of danger, can act as a source of support for people with problems
of mobility, and finally be used as a means of orientation by
visually disabled people. In this last case the presence of a
handrail, besides delimiting the border of the path and pointing out
the direction, also allows the installation of information signs.
The handrails must be created with two rails placed respectively at
a height of 80 and 110 cm, in order to let children and people in
wheelchairs also to use them. The cylindrical form, of at least 4-5
cm in diameter and the use of a "warm" material, such as wood, will
allow a comfortable and sure grip.
· structures for sensorial knowledge: it is also possible to think
about the creation of structures in which gaining knowledge about
the natural characteristics of the area is stimulated through the
use of all the senses, in which, for example, models of animals,
nests, feathers, eggs or trees can be explored inside the area
(leaves with a particular form, hollow trunks, etc.), and musk and
ferns placed so that it is possible to take in their odour. In
general, however, it is important that the vegetation present be
set, at least partly, at a height which is reachable by everybody,
also by people in wheelchairs, to raise the degree of tactile
fruition, just as it is important that there be present also stimuli
of an auditory type, such as the song of birds (it can be useful to
install a pigeon house), the presence of bamboo in the wind,
fountains or brooks (in this case setting some obstacles in the bed
where they flow enables the sound of water passing to increase).
A comfortable and effective system which allows the growth of plants
at reachable heights is that of using elevated flowerbeds; inside
the walls which contain such flowerbeds can be inserted plates in
Braille or in magnified characters, giving the names of the plants
The wall can also be used for sitting on or for resting against, and
its height can vary progressively in order to adapt itself to
At the base of the wall of these elevated flowerbeds is made a
continuous indentation to allow people on wheelchairs to position
themselves in such a way as to face them frontally. The height of
such walls, in those cases in which they can not be variable as
suggested above, should be 45-55 cm, and in any case, never above a
meter, to allow people in wheelchairs to see what is above them, and
the width should be of 90-120 cm, to allow every point of the
flowerbed to be reached using hands.
A further way of using a green area in such a way as to stimulate
the use of the senses consists in the creation of "nature trails";
paths along which are found means that present themselves as
elements of reasoned knowledge, guided by the natural environment,
by recreation and by aesthetical enjoyment.
There exist numerous vegetable species which are suitable when there
is the desire to increase the possibilities of use, which in this
way relies not only on sight, but which stimulates also the other
senses. For a closer examination of this, see the book “an oasis for
everyone”, by Maurizio Antoninetti (1991) and the file prepared
especially for the course.
If an active fruition of the environment is stimulated, those
species which have poisonous parts must be avoided, as for instance
honeysuckle, privet, laurel, and rhododendron, while other species
which have thorns or other morphological characteristics which are
dangerous to touch (brambles, locust-trees, holly, roses, etc.)
should be set away from the pedestrian paths. Particular attention
must be given to choosing species which do not attract insects and
bees, nor produce pollen which causes allergies, nor root systems
which are too close to the surface.
In the file are indicated other desirable or undesirable
characteristics of a lot of vegetable species.
The philosophy of planning
Apart from these purely technical considerations, it is important
also to reflect on the "philosophy" of planning:
1) it is important that the planning has as its objective the
creation of forms of integration for all the people who enter into a
green space, through the creation of spaces or activities suitable
both to heterogeneous groups of people and to individual needs; this
means creating projects that have been thought up "for everyone"
rather than for particular categories; those interventions created
to satisfy in a specific way the specific needs of some categories
of people should be perceived, as far as possible, only by their
recipients and instead pass unnoticed by all the other users.
2) the two primary considerations have to be the safeguarding of the
environmental characteristics of the area on which the intervention
is to be performed and the safety of its fruition. Where a conflict
is created between the needs for conservation and those of
accessibility, the first have to have the priority. It also should
be considered that maintaining a certain degree of difficulty in the
fruition of a green space can have, where it does not surpass
individual capacities, an important function which is both physical
(the possibility to take physical exercise) and psychological (being
in an environment from which every type of attrition has not been
artificially eliminated leads people to confront difficulty, which
in turn can lead to important processes which cause one to
understand one’s limits and one’s possibilities.
3) the planning has to be as simple as possible, since the presence
of an excessive number of stimuli risks to become source of
confusion for the those who receive them, especially if they do not
have the possibility to interpret them in an effective way; in
addition, it is important to offer as many different places as
possible, in order to permit everyone to create their own path,
according to their own requirements and needs.
4) it would be important and opportune to involve as great a number
as possible of categories of users both in the planning phase and in
the maintenance, and perhaps even in its creation.
This would underline a series of demands and needs which otherwise
would be difficult to predict (except for planners with great
experience in the sector).
For further information on the theme of accessibility to green
areas, contact Antonio Brunori, Via Quintina 40- 06087 Ponte San
Giovanni PG Tel. 075/5990699 - 348/2814116 - e.mail