Urban Talk Anička: Anička Park As a Naturally Inclusive Space
At the end of August, as part of the Košice 2.0 project, a discussion took place in Anička Park. The discussion was part of the Urban Talks format, which brings you expert debates on topics related to public spaces, the city and its development.
Three topics predominated on Saturday afternoon – the climate, inclusion and historical heritage. These followed from a survey focused on Anička Park and its environs. The survey, conducted by the Citizen Experience and Wellbeing Institute (CXI),summarised the data available for this area and identified where the potential of this area lies. At Urban Talk Anička a discussion took place with experts Viktória Mravčáková (SPOLKA), Andrej Šteiner (Carpathian Development Institute), Martin Zaiček (Jaromír Krejcar Society, Slovak Chamber of Architects) and head architect of the city of Košice, Petr Kropp (UHA MMK). You can read more about the events in the previous article: Urban Talk Anička. In this article we’ll examine, together with Viktória Mravčáková, the topic of inclusion in the context of the Anička Park.
What is inclusion?
At the start of the discussion, Viktória Mravčáková explained the essence of inclusion: “Inclusive planning means planning such that we take into consideration the needs of all people, but also non-humans, i.e. plants, animals, etc. This doesn’t mean that we see these groups as groups having specific needs, but that we attempt to plan a public space in such a way that it suits everyone.”
Recreation at Anička Park
In the past, Anička Park was the seat of a suburban spa complex. Today, it is also a place of rest for many Košice residents, who come here for a variety of activities. According to an online survey that we conducted in the autumn of 2021, visitors most often come to Anička Park to relax. Up to 27% of respondents mentioned this possibility, while 20% of users play sports and 17% spend time with children. The fourth most common answer (15%) was meeting friends and family, and 9% of those asked go there to walk their dog. Some 6% of respondents chose the interesting option “I observe people around me”, and 5% come to Anička Park for services and shops. Field observations confirmed the results of the questionnaire.
All the mentioned types of activities can be summarised in a single word: recreation. Another discussion panel member, Martin Zaiček, an expert on the topic of spas, suggested a connection between inclusion and the spa industry. “I perceive the topic of inclusion, the relationship between the living and the non-living, between non-humans and humans, very strongly, especially in recreation. With people, it is especially important to speak about the human body. Because this is not only a social body, but also a physical body. And this is very pleasant on this topic of recreation.” You can read more about the spa context of Anička Park in the article Urban Talk Anička: Anička Park and Its Historical Context.
Public space as a space for inclusion
The emphasis on making public space inclusive is a relatively new but very important trend. Inclusive public spaces can be the background that enables an entire society to become inclusive. The mental setting and approach to creation is reflected in the physical world – including in public spaces. If we do not think inclusively, we will not create inclusively. According to Viktória Mravčáková, a public space should also serve as a space for inclusion. “Public space must even serve as a space for inclusion. It is actually the only space where we have this opportunity to work inclusively in a very targeted way, because we don’t have a very long reach into the private space. And here I mean not only exterior public spaces, but also public services and public institutions, which must treat everyone equally.“
Public space for everyone
When designing in an inclusive way, it is important to be aware of who the user of the city is and how to harmonise relations when individual users of a public space are in conflict. Viktória Mravčáková explains: “The user of a city is every resident of the city. These are not merely the categories that we imagine. For example, a middle-aged man who is economically productive. There are other groups, too, such as senior men or senior women. And children have a completely different view and use the space differently. There are also other groups, such as cyclists or people we don’t often see. For example, people with chronic diseases or mobility issues, or with different ways of moving. And we have to consider all of these people which is a very complicated task. We (in SPOLKA) have been trying for a long time to create spaces that would not exclude anyone. I forget to mention marginalised groups, or people who may not have the money to go to a coffee shop. We have to take all this into account when we design any public space. And this really is a very difficult task and is very dependent on the specific context.”
The most sensitive groups of users of a public space are residents with reduced mobility, seniors and parents with children. With these residents, it is important to pay heed that the public space is adapted for them, so that they can move around it meaningfully and with dignity. “Of course, there are some general rules that we can implement. But it is always necessary to perform a very detailed mapping of the site. So, I’m very glad that such a mapping took place and that some more realistic considerations of this park can be built on it,” she said, assessing the institute’s research.
The field mapping showed that although the park’s infrastructure didn’t include any special barrier-free measures, many user groups who have a disability do visit the park. It’s possible that the flat terrain, its accessibility, the source of mineral water there, the greenery that provides a sense of intimacy and a barrier-free children’s playground all contribute to this. Last but not least, the pleasant climate during the summer also help. The greenery in Anička Park and its environs plays a very important role in the city’s resistance against the effects of climate change. You can read more about the content of the discussion on this topic in the article Urban Talk Anička: Anička Park As a Shelter from Heat Wave.
Viktória Mravčáková also confirmed the research hypothesis relating to the inclusive qualities of the Anička Park. “Anička Park is a naturally inclusive space, and I think this is also because the space is not very clearly defined. There is a clearly marked network of roads, but there is also a huge open area that can also be shaded and which enables any interpretation. I can effectively do whatever I want here, as long as I’m not endangering anyone else or doing anything illegal. And that, in my opinion, draws many people here to imagine this space in different ways. This in my view is the quality that should be preserved in the future.”
Inclusive public space – perfection or compromise?
Is it even possible to design a public space that will suit everyone? Can such a public space be a tool for teaching residents how to make compromises and behave tolerantly? “A public space, as such, is a space of conflicts and always will be. We cannot actually avoid this, but we cannot have those groups separated”. Viktória Mravčáková continues by recommending that such conditions be created for individual user groups in the public space such that conflicts arising out of frustration simply do not occur.
Not a lot of rules exist for the creating of inclusive public spaces. Aside from standards for barrier-free public spaces and basic ergonomic parameters, it is essential to rely on the results of mapping the specific situation in the location. In order to maintain the qualities of natural inclusion of the public space in the park, Anička Viktória Mravčáková recommends “not creating attractions or things that can only be used in one way, such as a playground that is only for children under 6 years old. This is rather more about thinking about the quality of this space so that every space enables some kind of experience for all user groups.”
Inclusion and well-being
In the end, a public space significantly affects the quality of life, the so-called well-being of city residents
An indicator may also be that residents remain in a public space; it is not just a place for them to pass through. Aside from the joy of use and dignity, inclusion also brings safety to public spaces. This often relates to the overall traffic situation in the city.