Uncovering JAPA

Planning for Care - A Necessary Element of Equitable, Livable and Healthy Communities

Giving and receiving care is central to the health, livability, and economy of cities. Care, as defined by political scientist Joan Tronto, is an activity that includes everything we do to maintain, continue, and repair the world so that we achieve a sense of well-being. However, people's capacity to undertake care work today is unequal and unsustainable. Overwhelmingly performed by women and people of color, care work has long been underrecognized and undervalued. The crisis of care is an urban planning problem. Planners have a role in alleviating the contemporary crisis of care to succeed in efforts to achieve racial and gender equity in cities.

Recognizing Caregivers' Roles in Urban Planning

In "The Urban Infrastructure of Care: Planning for Equitable Social Reproduction," (Journal of the American Planning Association, Vol. 89, No. 3), Andrew Binet and colleagues broaden the understanding of how caregivers shape and are shaped by the urban environment. The authors propose an evidence-based framework for making care visible and valued in planning using an infrastructural approach that treats the urban environment as a set of interlocking social and material elements that make care possible. The authors conclude with strategies for integrating care into planning scholarship and practice.

This study emerges from the Healthy Neighborhoods Study, a broader participatory action research project in nine Boston-area neighborhoods to understand and act on the relationship between urban development and community health.

The authors draw on existing literature and 68 semi-structured interviews with caregivers whose primary caregiving responsibility was for children. Most of these caregivers were low-income women of color living in dense urban areas with high housing costs.

Findings show that the qualities of, and connections between, specific components of the urban environment, like public space and accessibility, shape the nature and intensity of caregiving.

Caregivers have goals for their dependents, themselves, and their communities that respond to experiences and perceptions of the urban environment. Figure 1 illustrates caregivers use various strategies to reach these goals while negotiating spatial, social, and economic characteristics of the urban environment.

Figure 1: Strategies to fulfill caregiving goals depend on components of the urban environment. The Urban Infrastructure of Care.

Figure 1: Strategies to fulfill caregiving goals depend on components of the urban environment. The Urban Infrastructure of Care.

Innovating Urban Planning for Caregiving

However, when environmental components of care were absent, inadequate, inaccessible, or spatially disconnected from one another, caregivers could find themselves in a care bind.

Care binds refer to situations where a caregiver's ability to carry out caregiving strategies was constrained by their urban context. For example, a lack of adequate resources including finances, energy, time, and well-being all contribute to increased burdens, sacrifices, and tradeoffs that make carework difficult and unsustainable.

Planning for the crisis of care is one of coordination as much as it is one of innovation. The authors recommend strategies, such as:

  • Integrating care as a key consideration in planning decision-making
  • Creating opportunities and structures for collaboration across planning domains
  • Prioritizing investments in the infrastructure of care where it is the weakest

Planners already work on aspects of the urban infrastructure of care, including housing, transportation, economic development, and green space. Moreover, care is something about which all people in cities have experiential insight. Planners can use participatory assessments and coordinated strategies to enhance the urban conditions for caregiving, making cities more equitable, healthy, and just.

Top image: E+ Michele Pevide

ABout the author
Jess Shakesprere is a master in urban planning candidate at Harvard University.


September 28, 2023

By Jessica Shakesprere