A key objective of community development is to enhance the quality of life for everyone in an inclusive manner.

Considered by many as a Utopian concept, community development is a continuous process consisting of various actions that empower members of the civil society to increase the quality of life with a particular emphasis on equity for those at a socio-economic disadvantage.

However, this definition is in direct conflict with the neo-liberal philosophies of commentators such as Frederick Hayek and Milton Friedman who question this concern of civil society for ensuring equity of opportunity among the socially deprived, simultaneously condemning their work as depleting the degree of freedom of the individual.

To understand this concern for equity, one could refer to recent research by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett in The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, (Bloomsbury Press, 2009), where the two authors use statistical analysis across a dozen developed countries and fifty American States to prove that inequality is a trigger for a vast range of societal ills.

In today’s social milieu, it is a given that the poor have shorter lifespans and are a target of almost every social problem including violence, lack of community life, teen pregnancy and mental illness. The problems of an unequal society affect not only the disadvantaged but also the middle class and the rich, leading to the conclusion that a less than equal society is bad for everyone.

Integral components

Healthcare and accessible community care

Visionary Design Development’s proposed mobile eye clinic program in Cambodia is based on the challenges in public healthcare in the country. Delivery of basic services in rural areas is difficult due to a lack of infrastructure and human resource capacity, with the low population density making it expensive. The eye health sector suffers from the same shortcomings as the broader health systems with insufficient human resources to meet the demand for ophthalmologists, cataract surgeons, optometrists, ophthalmic nurses and refractionists, particularly in rural areas.

Statistics from Cambodia with a total population of 14 million reveal that 1.4 million people have impaired distance vision. As many as two million would benefit immediately from eye examinations and a pair of spectacles costing as little as $5.

Accessible Community Care will be developed further in VDD Studio’s third Research Lab.

Good access is invisible

Visionary Design Development eschews the practice of viewing human ability through a dichotomous abled/disabled lens. VDD believes that society’s collective failure in delivering an accessible built environment stems from its assumptions of an extremely narrow range of variation in human ability.

VDD aims for building designs where the accessibility ‘features’ are invisible; designing in accordance with Universal Design principles assists in this regard, and also enhances sustainability.

Affordable housing

As part of the organisation’s advocacy efforts for the development of socially accessible communities, Visionary Design Development, along with valuable input from VDD Studio member Saumya Kaushik, made a submission to the Senate Economics References Committee inquiry into affordable housing.

In part, the submission reads:

“Social accessibility is an emerging notion in contemporary discourse on urban development and social justice. We understand a socially accessible community to be one where a range of resources, for example, appropriate housing, public transport, jobs, services and social networks, necessary to maintain a reasonable quality of life, are available to be accessed and enjoyed by all members of society - including people with disabilities, people from low socio-economic backgrounds, those under-qualified or unemployed - not merely those with a certain level of wealth. Social accessibility is a useful term on which to frame an approach to socially just urban development, deliberately departing from other terminologies, such as ‘liveability’ and ‘urban regeneration’ that can be both limited and misleading in their application. In particular, measures of liveability and strategies for regeneration do not typically consider those who do not have access to the ‘liveable’ city or ‘regenerated’ neighbourhood (Butterworth).”

Visionary Design Development acknowledges the disadvantages suffered by people with disabilities and works toward a more equitably accessible world. Please contact Ralph or Mary Ann to discuss community development collaborations.