Classification of the environment - 1991

In his report at the CIB seminar in 1991, Zoltán Csorba from the Mayor's Office in Budapest, Hungary describes action taken by the government to build homes for persons with disabilities in conjunction with the International Year of Disabled Persons and the various reasons why this initiative did not continue. He outlines a system of classification of the environment which could be used in the formulation of international recommendations which could in turn serve as a basis for legislation to promote the creation of non-handicapping environments and homes in former socialist states. Internet publication URL:
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Report of the CIB Expert Seminar on Building Non-Handicapping Environments, Budapest 1991


Classification of the environment

Zoltán Csorba, Mayor's Office, Budapest, Hungary

In 1981 the Municipal Council of Budapest decided to build on a regular basis special homes for persons with disabilities, as indicated by the International Year of Disabled Persons. This resolution was carried out within the framework of the yearly housing program. I had the task to help solve problems, mostly of a technical type, which were considerably different from that of the routine mass housing process.

About 80 homes were completed in the different housing estates, which indicates the tight limits of the program. The action launched on the occasion of the IYDP could not meet the needs of more then one tenth of the estimated real requirements. The program, foreseeing a systematic action of building accessible homes stopped; no similar initiatives have been realized since. The newly elected governing bodies of local representation may do something in the future.

As new democracies in East and Central Europe turn towards privatization and the voluntary principle new aspects are needed in order to promote the creation of non-handicapping environments and homes by means of regulation in accordance with the declared principles. In the former socialist states the task of improving the environment for people with disabilities has had a marginal role. Such programs were started in peripheral areas and were slow to make quick efficient changes.

In these countries, proprietary rights have gained the main priority, and new forms of influence are needed. The key for solving these problems could be the elaboration of some international recommendations, separated from the pure social aspects. These recommendations could provide a new approach, based on legality and human rights. Recommendations should discuss the following ideas. The relation between man and environment could be categorized in 3 different types:

1. Private areas: 
Areas with "exclusive" use, where the user's (mainly the owner's) personal rights are dominating. The user has the right to decide about the configuration of his own house and apartment and about the degree of danger tolerated.

Semi-private areas with "limited" use, where the decisions are taken by a group with common responsibility. Such decisions are made in case of buildings with shared ownership.

2. Public areas: 
This category includes public institutions, public park areas, and all places accessible by everybody. Human and civil rights ensure the general accessibility and the common use of these areas.

3. Protected areas: 
This includes areas where the environment must be preserved or is under conservation, and it may not be changed.

These three main kinds of user and environment relations allow classification on the following basis:
  • prevention from the dangers caused by the behavior of people, and the responsibility for avoiding dangerous situations,
  • accessibility and non-handicapping configuration of the built environment, and the responsibility for ensuring these as a declared human right.
The above principle could give a good approach for the categories of the legislation. This classification could be applied in the regulations of the physical planning. My proposal is to define the following four zones:

Zone A 
Unhindered, accessible environments have to be created which citizens are allowed to use or enjoy any time, having the natural civil right to exercise different activities (i.e., premises of public institutions like town halls, police stations, court houses, hospitals, etc.). Also, the public areas on which these buildings are accessible. The areas of pedestrian traffic, such routes and places. The bigger public parks and all places, where the master plan or other regulations prescribe the formation of these kind of areas.

Zone B 
On the "private" areas unhindered accessibility can not be ordered, but highly recommended in order to provide an environment that meets the demands of old people, people with disabilities or children, baby pram users, emergency delivery, ambulance and health services. The formation of the unhindered environment is the task of the owner. To set the responsibilities clear, recommendations for the prevention of accidents would be very useful.

Zone C 
The "dangerous" environment is a special area where access should be allowed only for persons able to take the risk involved in the use of these areas. Regulations are needed here to form the boundary and mark the danger with signs.

Zone D 
The "protected "environment. A certain requirement is the protection of the environment against the radical human influence. This can refer to the built environment (monuments), or natural environment (national parks, protected values). The declaration of the special legal status in these areas can be a solution to the problem.

The classification described above could form a complex system on which to base the requirements for the legislation. This way the owner's rights and the autonomy of the local governments will not be violated. At the same time, disabled persons, old and young people and the rest of us will have a comfortable, adaptable and useful environment.

The former methods of town planning handled separately the special functional areas of the town. New tendencies emphasize the character of the part of the town and try to preserve the main features of it. My proposal, according to the new ideas, stresses one of the most important elements of the character, the safety of free moving, which is the prime condition of the comfort feeling.

As you may know, the General Assembly of the Municipality of Budapest recently decided to make the main places and institutions in the capital barrier-free. It will be a long and permanent program.

The first task is to specify the demands. It is difficult because, until now, there were neither research programs nor institutions responsible for complex human health research in the residential environment investigating the mental and physical impacts. We need the experiences of the developed countries, including regulations, plans, and proven solutions.

We have to find the means to transform both the mind of professionals and the mentality of the people.


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