Capital Design Guidelines

Gender-Based Analysis Plus


The Capital of Canada is the national seat of democratic governance and therefore must reflect and serve all Canadians. Gender-based Analysis Plus (GBA Plus) is a Government of Canada best practice to assess how policies, programs and initiatives affect diverse groups of people differently. 

Some groups of people may experience persistent challenges to achieving equity and inclusion based on gender and/or other identity factors. These groups may be underrepresented throughout the design process and more limited in their ability to benefit from the function and enjoyment of public institutions and spaces. As such, Capital designs must account for the pluralism of all Canadians in order to advance equity and inclusion and eliminate barriers and discrimination within the built environment.


The purpose of these guidelines is to create inclusive, equitable and welcoming public spaces and amenities by assessing and understanding the ways people presenting different identity factors perceive, experience and interact with the design.

Policy Statement

The NCC is committed to implementing an internal GBA Plus framework, in alignment with best practices developed by Women and Gender Equality Canada (WAGE).

The NCC advocates for inclusive and socially responsible design to make the National Capital Region more welcoming, inclusive and responsive to the diverse needs of its residents and visitors, regardless of sex, gender, age, ability and all other identity factors.

1 Understanding Identity, Gender and Intersectionality

  • 1.1

    Identity Factors

    • 1.1.1

      Identity factors shape who we are and inform our experience of the world around us.

    • 1.1.2

      Each person’s identity is unique, based on their individual identity factors and lived experiences.

      • Identity factors include unique characteristics of a person’s identity such as age, ability, gender, geography, culture, income, sexual orientation, education, sex, race, ethnicity, religion, and others.
  • 1.2


    • 1.2.1

      Gender is one of numerous identity factors that shape our lived experiences and sense of self.

      • Gender is a set of socially constructed roles, behaviours and characteristics.
      • Gender is not biological; a person’s gender identity may or may not align with the gender typically associated with their sex.
    • 1.2.2

      Gender identity refers to an internal and deeply felt sense of being a man or woman, both or neither. Gender identities that fall outside the “woman-man” binary are commonly referred to as gender-diverse people.

      • A person who is gender diverse may identify as non-binary, genderqueer, gender fluid, multiple, two-spirit, no gender, gender non-conforming or agender. However, understanding of gender continually evolves and, as such, other gender identities do and will exist beyond those listed here.
    • 1.2.3

      Designers should understand and design for the full spectrum of gender diversity, roles and experiences.

  • 1.3


    • 1.3.1

      Multiple identity factors intersect to create each person’s uniquely layered identity and sense of self. For example:

      • “Womanhood” is not a uniform identity: a racialized woman (e.g. Black or Indigenous), a woman with a disability and a racialized woman with a disability may each experience the world very differently.
      • Similarly, a person who identifies as a woman, a new immigrant and a senior citizen can be viewed as belonging to three separate identity groups.
    • 1.3.2

      Society is diverse, and there is a limitless array of intersectional identity factors between and among all of us.

      • Intersectionality creates diverse needs that require inclusive design solutions.
      • A person may be impacted by design in complex and compounding ways, depending on their unique identity factors.
    • 1.3.3

      Designers should apply a GBA Plus lens to assess how the design may affect (positively or negatively) diverse groups of people and if specific needs and perspectives may be overlooked.

  • 1.4

    Vulnerable and Underrepresented Groups

    • 1.4.1

      Vulnerable (including marginalized or underrepresented) groups are more likely to be excluded or adversely affected by design. Vulnerable groups may include but are not limited to:

      • Women
      • Members of the LGBTQ2+ community
      • Indigenous Peoples
      • Newcomers
      • Older adults
      • People with disabilities
      • People belonging to religious minorities
      • Neurodiverse people
      • People with low income
      • Homeless people
      • Racialized people
      • Rural residents
      • Youth

2 Avoiding Biases

  • 2.1

    Norms and Standards

    • 2.1.1

      Planning, design and engineering include numerous standardized norms and processes. Many of them have historically been shaped by men.

      • These norms may carry assumptions that perpetuate systemic bias and discrimination.
      • Institutional biases can have detrimental impacts on vulnerable or underrepresented groups.
    • 2.1.2

      Designers should question and challenge institutional norms and biases to ensure that the assumptions used in the design process do not result in unintended or negative impacts on particular groups of people.

  • 2.2

    Power and Privilege

    • 2.2.1

      Power is the ability to influence and make decisions that impact others.

      • Designers and decision makers exercise power by creating spaces that will influence how people live, interact and experience their surroundings.
    • 2.2.2

      Privilege refers to advantages or benefits that some groups or individuals may experience and that others do not because of social groups they are, or are perceived to be, a part of.

      • Privilege can exist or persist as a result of historical patterns and practices.
    • 2.2.3

      To identify imbalances in power and privilege, designers should ask:

      • Who will be impacted?
      • Who is benefitting?
      • Who is deciding?
  • 2.3


    • 2.3.1

      Positionality describes how a person’s unique intersectional identity factors create and may obscure their understanding of, and outlook on, the world.

      • Unconscious biases can result from assuming one’s own views and experiences as typical or prioritized/privileged over those of others.
      • Be cognisant of position and privilege which may influence assumptions. Designers should assess their own identity factors and positionality to recognize how these might consciously or unconsciously influence the design process.
      • For example, income, language, class, education, property or vehicle ownership and other factors can be elements of privilege and can affect unconscious assumptions.
      • Learn about the experiences and perspectives of diverse groups whose identity factors may differ from your own.
  • 2.4

    No “Universal” Person

    • 2.4.1

      Standards are often based on a typical or average person. However, not everyone falls within conventional social or physical norms.

      • Designers should question and challenge a “one size fits all” approach.
    • 2.4.2

      Assess the full range of user needs and envision design solutions that meet the needs of diverse groups of people. For instance:

      • Handrails of varying heights can address the needs of children and people of various heights and abilities.
      • Seating for pregnant or obese people may require different spacing or features.
  • 2.5

    Equality, Equity and Justice

    • 2.5.1

      Equality refers to equal conditions where each person receives the same treatment.

      • Equal treatment does not guarantee equal outcomes and opportunities for all.
    • 2.5.2

      Equity refers to fair opportunity and benefits for all.

      • Equity may require support and accommodations that provide equal access and opportunity.
    • 2.5.3

      Justice refers to fair and inclusive conditions that are fully inclusive for everyone.

      • Justice requires careful planning to eliminate barriers.
  • 2.6

    Diversity and Inclusion

    • 2.6.1

      Diversity refers to the variety of identity factors within a population.

      • Diversity alone does not ensure equity or inclusion.
    • 2.6.2

      Inclusion is a conscious choice to create more equitable conditions and opportunities for everyone.

    • 2.6.3

      Inclusive design aims to create public spaces that are responsive to the needs of diverse groups of people. Inclusive design:

      • Focuses on making spaces user-friendly for everyone.
      • Asserts that there is no typical or “universal” user.
      • Understands that exclusion can happen to anyone depending on context.
      • Seeks to create connections between people and to address exclusion.

3 Identifying and Eliminating Barriers

  • 3.1

    Barriers to Equity and Inclusion

    • 3.1.1

      Barriers are any aspect of a design – social, functional or otherwise – that hinders the full and equal participation and benefit for persons.

      • People may experience barriers in different ways, to varying degrees, and for various reasons based on one or more of their identity factors.
    • 3.1.2

      Designers can identify, reduce and eliminate barriers by:

      • Understanding the needs of diverse groups of people.
      • Creating welcoming environments that encourage and permit everyone to use public spaces.
      • Enabling diverse groups to make independent choices about how they use a space without experiencing undue effort, discomfort, discrimination, or exclusion.
  • 3.2

    Social Barriers

    • 3.2.1

      Social identity factors (e.g. language, income, ethnicity) can affect how particular groups use and experience space. Examples include:

      • Written signage may not be clear or comprehensible for people who do not speak an official language.
      • Commercialization of public spaces may create unfair access for people of lower incomes.
      • Groups with proportionally higher incarceration rates may be more sensitive to policing and security measures.
    • 3.2.2

      Social roles (e.g. parent or caretaker) may involve two or more people’s compounding identity factors. Examples include:

      • When a caregiver is assisting or accompanying an infant, an older adult or a person with disabilities. The caretaker’s role is different from their experience as an individual.
      • The experience of a person with a disability may be very different when they are acting alone compared with when they are in the company of a caretaker, a friend or a companion animal.
    • 3.2.3

      Gender biases, stereotypes and assumptions are examples of discrimination that may contribute to social inequities in the built environment.

      • Gender references are often social constructs that do not reflect functional uses.
      • Designing for function rather than gender can achieve more inclusive outcomes.
      • Remove gender references in design and develop non-gendered solutions.
  • 3.3

    Functional Barriers

    • 3.3.1

      Certain physical features or configurations can result in functional barriers that may reduce the benefit to certain groups or impede or deter their participation. Examples include:

      • A parent or guardian may face mobility barriers travelling with a stroller or baby carriage.
      • Some people may require frequent rest breaks due to physical or health conditions or limited mobility.
    • 3.3.2

      Accommodations and design features can help to overcome functional barriers, such as:

      • Introducing charging stations for mobility aids.
      • Providing Wi-Fi connectivity for assistive technologies.
      • Locating services and amenities in convenient and easily accessible places.
  • 3.4

    Seasonal Barriers

    • 3.4.1

      Some groups (especially vulnerable groups) may be disproportionately affected by climatic conditions and seasonal patterns. Examples include:

      • People with mobility devices may be more impacted by snow accumulation.
      • The risks of slips and falls on icy surfaces may be more severe for older people.
      • People of lower income or without stable housing may be more frequently exposed to extreme heat or cold.
    • 3.4.2

      Design public spaces to mitigate the adverse effects of climate. Examples include:

      • Creating interior and exterior public spaces for the benefit of all.
      • Providing access to drinking water, especially during periods of extreme heat.
      • Providing shade in summer and wind protection in winter.
  • 3.5

    Particular Needs

    • 3.5.1

      A universal design approach does not always address the full range of user experience. Tailored design solutions are sometimes necessary to meet a particular group’s needs, often to the benefit and convenience of all users. For instance:

      • Mothers may encounter challenges with respect to pregnancy or nursing a newborn in public spaces.
      • Children at varying stages of physical and cognitive development may require specific features or safety considerations. They also need play opportunities and tactile stimulation.
      • People who menstruate (e.g. women, older girls and some trans men) require access to menstrual products. Providing amenities for easy access and disposal mitigates a functional biological barrier.
      • People with medical conditions such as diabetes or hormone deficiencies may need to use syringes, lancets and small pharmaceuticals. Providing needle drop boxes enables safe disposal.
    • 3.5.2

      Assess user groups and engagement, conduct surveys and address particular user needs.

    • 3.5.3

      Design solutions to facilitate or mitigate particular needs without segregating, excluding or marginalizing any group.

  • 3.6


    • 3.6.1

      Exclusion can occur inadvertently when a design does not identify or incorporate particular needs. Vulnerable and minority groups are at greater risk of exclusion as their needs are more likely underrepresented through the design process.

      • For example, a lack of facilities or amenities (e.g. drinking fountains, public washrooms, age-appropriate amenities for children and/or older adults) may disproportionately create barriers for certain individuals or groups.
    • 3.6.2

      Exclusion can also occur when certain groups do not feel represented or included in the design. Designs that reflect the diversity of Canadian society may include:

      • Naming of places and public spaces to reflect and include underrepresented groups (e.g. Indigenous peoples, women, people of colour).
      • Historical interpretation that includes multiple perspectives and is sensitive to experiences of discrimination such as colonialism, systemic racism and religious persecution.
    • 3.6.3

      Avoid features that deter certain groups of people from fully participating and benefiting from public spaces and facilities.

      • Avoid exclusionary messages such as “no loitering” or architectural features that may be perceived as unwelcoming or hostile, to the detriment of all users.
      • Instead, focus on permitted uses and design quality, so everyone feels safe and welcome.

4 Creating Safe and Comfortable Environments

  • 4.1


    • 4.1.1

      Safety includes both the physical and mental well-being of a person.

      • Vulnerable groups may experience or perceive risks to their individual or collective safety and freedom of movement more acutely based on their identity, as a result of their lived experiences of violence or discrimination.
      • Women, girls and gender-diverse people may experience fear and are historically at higher risk of sexual violence or intimidation in public areas.
    • 4.1.2

      Design public spaces, amenities and services to ensure that all people can use them safely, with dignity, comfort and confidence.

      • Make spaces comfortable and inviting, and reduce stress, danger and the perception of danger through infrastructure, plantings and other design choices.
      • Prioritize design solutions that enhance both the physical and perceived safety of public spaces.
    • 4.1.3

      Modifications to existing public spaces and amenities may help to mitigate and improve personal safety. Examples include:

      • Mirrors and lighting can make spaces clearer and reduce the perception of danger.
      • Panic buttons or community alarms (at appropriate intervals in plain view) that draw attention when activated and are linked to emergency response centres along pathways and other outdoor infrastructure can increase safety.
      • Beautifully designed and well-maintained spaces, with trees, natural materials and water installations can alleviate stress and anxiety and create a feeling of security, calm and comfort.
  • 4.2

    Visibility and Movement

    • 4.2.1

      Maximize visibility to promote natural surveillance of the environment and improve public safety. Examples include:

      • Provide clear lines of sight from adjacent sites and adjoining buildings so that people can see and be seen by others.
      • Employ spatial and acoustic divisions only where privacy is required (e.g. washrooms, changerooms, wellness rooms) and avoid concealed areas.
      • Select vegetation and planting to ensure visibility towards public pathways, park spaces and other outdoor spaces in all seasons and over time as plants mature.
    • 4.2.2

      Eliminate narrow, dead-end or isolated spaces (e.g. pathways, corridors, park areas) to minimize unsafe conditions and the possibility of entrapment.

    • 4.2.3

      Provide well-defined public spaces and buildings to enable safe movement and ease of access. Examples include:

      • Clear and intuitive entrances to outdoor spaces and buildings that minimize obstructions and create welcoming edges and points of entry that can be seen from the street or other public spaces.
      • Convenient connections between mobility systems (e.g. transit routes and multi-use pathways for cyclists and pedestrians) including wayfinding, lighting and configurations to optimize pedestrian comfort and safety.
      • Safe routes through parks and urban green spaces with links to surrounding streets and public spaces and permeable edges, without physical barriers such as walls and fences.
  • 4.3


    • 4.3.1

      Illuminate public spaces with adequate lighting to improve amenability at nighttime and perceived safety and comfort. Examples include:

      • Appropriate nighttime lighting that makes the environment more inviting, particularly to vulnerable groups who may otherwise feel unsafe.
      • Provide natural and ambient lighting in and around buildings (via windows, atria, etc.) to increase the perceived openness and security of such spaces.
      • Provide uniform lighting in public spaces and on travel routes.
      • Avoid glare or misdirected lighting that obscures the visibility of people and surroundings.
  • 4.4


    • 4.4.1

      Social interactions can improve mental health and social well-being.

    • 4.4.2

      Create opportunities for friendly interaction and community connections. For example:

      • Vary public seating formations to allow people to sit in different numbers and modes to help them feel comfortable while observing, interacting and participating in the surrounding environment.
      • Design large public spaces (indoor and outdoor) to include flexible layouts and various programming options that create a sense of animation, connection and welcoming.
      • Provide lively public spaces and street-facing shops and amenities (e.g. cafés and picnic tables) to facilitate movement and opportunities for social interactions.