Talu, Valentina; Congiu, Tanja; Tola, Giulia (2017). 'The city of images Urban mobility policies and extra-small tactical projects for promoting urban capabilities of people with ASD [Autism Spectrum Disorder]' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Cape Town 2017.


The paper focuses on the rarely discussed topic of the relation between the city and people with ASD [Autism Spectrum Disorder], with the specific aim of promoting their individual «urban capabilities» (Talu 2013, 2014; Blečić, Cecchini, Talu, in press) by increasing the autonomy and safety of walking across the city at the neighborhood scale, thus making the access to relevant urban spaces and services possible, also to this group of citizens.

Current researches and applications aimed at exploring the role of spatial configuration as a means for improving the autonomy of people with ASD, exclusively focus on the definition of criteria for the design of closed, separated, private spaces devoted only to people - mainly children - with ASD, (i.e. assisted living residences, day care centers and schools, healing gardens) (Beaver 2003, 2006; Brand 2010; Gaudion e McGinley 2012; Herbert 2003; Linehan 2008; Mostafa 2008; Sachs e Vincenta 2011; Wilson 2006).

The growing incidence of ASD (the diagnostic criteria for autism have changed with each revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) revealing an increasing attention on the topic motivated by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-CDC’s prospects which estimates 1 in 68 children identified with autism spectrum in United States) and the need to guarantee during adulthood the actual opportunity to exercise the achieved level of autonomy and independency, are the main reasons that lead us to think that it is necessary to ‘broaden’ the research perspective by investigating also the specific contribution of urban mobility policies and urban design to the improvement of urban capabilities of people with ASD, and, as a consequence, to the enhancement of their quality of life.

Starting from this consideration, the paper describes a recent and ongoing research aimed at defining integrated urban mobility policies and extra-small tactical projects for promoting and providing the real opportunity for people with ASD of “using” their everyday city.

In the first part of the paper, we provide a framework for illustrating the commonly recurring problems that people with ASD face in their daily life when they interact with the urban environment. Referring to the notions of “functioning” and “capability” of the theory of Capability Approach (Sen 2009, 1992, 1980; Nussbaum 2011, 2006, 2000, 1999), we identify three “atypical urban functionings” (for the definition of “atypical functioning” see Terzi, 2011): i) the sensory distortion; ii) the need to communicate using pictures; iii) the need to follow a routine and to use “social stories” to acknowledge and praise successful completion of a given accomplishment.

In the second part of the paper, supported by an in depth analysis of existing contributions (researches and projects) and an exchange with different experts (neuropsychiatrists, teachers, parents), we identify three “enabling urban requirements” in response to the above-mentioned “atypical urban functionings: i) the reduction of sensory overload; ii) the use of visual supports (pictures and maps); iii) the use of a system of visual messages.

The last part of the paper proposes an operational translation of the “enabling urban requirements” into an integrated system of urban mobility policies and extra-small, low cost, and scalable projects at the neighborhood scale, aimed at enhancing the actual possibility for people with ASD of walking autonomously and safely for accessing to relevant urban spaces and services. An application to a neighborhood of the city of Sassari, Sardinia, is presented.

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