The Architecture Foundation's debate on 'access' inevitably tended towards the subject of disability access, but aspired to a broader debate about access to opportunities, and experience in general, in cities.
For the AJ's Austin Williams, the concept of access 'has a positive image', but should be treated with caution, due to its implicit political dimension. 'Encouraging people to discuss access is a unification strategy, ' he suggested, and the term 'social inclusion', as used in the London Plan and much bandied around by the government, is simply a euphemism for access. But, precisely as the term becomes more current, mobility itself, claims Williams - the foundation of access - is being reduced. Williams used the occasion to air his bugbear - about the attack on the liberty of carusers, and the need for an integrated transport policy, based on a national overview, which incorporates a radical overhaul of roads, and puts its faith in the 'self-regulating' nature of congestion.
Few people in these circles are prepared to stand up for car-use as Williams is, and few would argue for the right to mobility to the extent of commuting to London from Newcastle. But then it transpired that another of the speakers, Julia Cassim of the RCA's Helen Hamlyn Research Centre, commutes to work from Manchester every day.Having lived in Japan for 27 years, in a 'young urban landscape', such a journey might seem reasonable. But Cassim's main concern is for the rights to mobility of the disabled - a user group which stands at some 8.7 million people, with a spending power of £50 billion and, as she pointed out, includes all of us as we grow older, with only five per cent accounted for by wheelchair users. Cassim insists that effective 'inclusive design' can be implemented in quite small ways, and that, as a goal, it should provide a stimulus to the creativity of designers. The key is to develop an awareness of the 'difference' of others.
Kim Quazi, who worked on the scheme for the Channel 4 headquarters, suggested that awareness, or 'imagination', was present throughout the design process, but then swung off at a tangent to condemn current public transport policy as 'highly politicised' and 'unclear', resulting in significant 'hurdles' to the use of the city, and the enjoyment of its 'immense diversity'. He argued that the obsessive ideological bent of the debate, focused on funding, was obscuring the important area of discussion, about how transport systems are actually used. PPP could only, he suggested, result in 'another level of fragmentation', and, if we want 'European-style services', they will have to be paid for directly through taxation.
This was a debate which decisively equated the notion of access with one of physical experience:
an interesting commentary on the influence of the virtual in shaping new patterns of life in the 21st century.
Access was the third of the Architecture Foundation's New Architects 2 Talks