Applying Intersectionality as Planners to Combat Health Inequities

Intersectionality has become a critical framework in the public health field for analyzing and addressing complex disparities in outcomes.

Intersectionality: Vital for Urban Planning Equity

Authors Patrice C. Williams, Andrew Binet, Dana M. Alhasan, Nyree M. Riley, and Chandra L. Jackson argue that intersectionality is a necessary lens for urban planners as well, given the relationships between structural oppression, the built environment, and health equity. Their piece, "Urban Planning for Health Equity Must Employ an Intersectionality Framework,"& (Journal of the American Planning Association, Vol. 89, No. 2), offers strategies and guiding questions that can help put intersectionality into planning practice when it comes to pursuing health equity.

Applying an intersectionality framework begins with asking the right questions to situate problems in a historical context, and to reveal how interlacing forces of racism, sexism, or other forms of structural oppression are at play.

The authors emphasize that planners need to understand their role in influencing communities'& health outcomes and should interrogate whether their actions are reproducing or actively challenging inequities along the lines of race, class, ability, gender, and more. Answering these questions, including those outlined in the figure below, will require both targeted research as well as conversations with community stakeholders to gain a full picture of the relevant problems.

Figure 2. Four questions for evaluating planners’ roles in intersectional approaches to planning for health equity. Image of Black woman by Volha (Image #22430257 at

Figure 2. Four questions for evaluating planners' roles in intersectional approaches to planning for health equity. Image of a Black woman by Volha (Image #22430257 at

Collaboration Reshapes Health Systems

An intersectionality lens helps to illuminate complex power relationships that create systematically unequal health outcomes. Therefore, another key strategy for planners is to strengthen communities & power through coalition-building. This work helps build capacity for community groups to take strategic action together.& Furthermore, changing systems that shape health outcomes requires collaboration across diverse stakeholders, including those within formal healthcare industries and beyond.

Finally, planners should ensure that an intersectional equity lens is embedded into their existing evaluation toolkit so that all decision-makers ask difficult questions and stay focused on the distinctive needs of marginalized community members.

Top image: Photo by E+ - Drs Producoes.

About the author
Megan McGlinchey is a master of urban planning candidate at Harvard University.

April 6, 2023

By Megan McGlinchey