Research project

Care for the City: Rethinking urbanism and ethics


Care for the City: Rethinking urbanism and ethics

“Not only did [they] not know how to make an interesting or humane street, but they didn’t even notice such things and didn’t care.”

(Jane Jacobs, 1961)

Care for the City explores the role of care in the development and management of cities and urban communities. The meaning of care encompasses ‘caring about’, as in adopting a concerned attitude and/or an ethical disposition toward the existence, condition and development of living (human and non-human) beings, things and/or environments. It also includes ‘caring for’ as in mobilising such concerns through social relations and related practices. Focusing on the practices of planning, design, building and management through which the city is structured, physically made and maintained, the book sets out to show how care is (and is not) embedded in a range of ways of making the built environment. It considers the implications of this for citizens in terms of such pressing matters as their inclusion, safety and prospects, and it puts forward an argument for the need for care in contemporary citymaking

Why care? The book starts from the position that there is much to be done to improve the way in which the city is produced as a common source of wealth and opportunity. Cities and urban communities with them are made up of resources or ‘goods’ including parks, streets, social infrastructure and housing. What resources are developed, how they are designed and maintained, and who they are available to is consequential not only for the demographics of urban communities but the wellbeing and prospects of their citizens. How these resources emerge and are managed is, in turn, the product of particular forms of governance and social relations — between planners, designers, developers, financiers and property owners.

As urban scholars have often noted (for example, Fainstein, 2010; Frug, 1999; Lefebvre, 1991; Marcuse and Madden, 2016), the role of citymaking as the provision and maintenance of collective resources is in continual tension with its capacity to enable landowners, developers and investors to accumulate private capital. The former role is seen to be all too frequently compromised in favour of the latter’s emphasis on logics of viability, responsiveness to markets, increasing profit-margins, generating cost efficiencies and the like, creating a dilemma in thinking about the city as a place of care.

But the development of urban resources is also informed by ideas of the social responsibility of citymakers towards their fellow citizens, and of the societal and/or moral value of responding to human needs and helping people to live better lives than they might otherwise in the context of unrestrained market forces. Such ideas may be seen to be reflected, albeit it in different ways, in the goals and outcomes of such diverse schemes as philanthropic or charitable developments, forms of long-term stewardship, planning and development under the welfare state and cooperative or communitarian projects.

This book contends that the concept of care opens up an important new way of critically evaluating different approaches to citymaking. Care is subject to a variety of interpretations, but is defined throughout the book by reference to the ‘ethics of care’ which first emerged in feminist literature of the early 1980s (for example, as described by Tronto, 1993; Noddings, 2003; Held, 2006) and that have continued to be developed since. Conceived in these terms, the notion of care encompasses how needs and matters of wellbeing are recognised as important, the values that motivate care-givers of different kinds, and the concrete practices of giving, receiving, and exchanging forms of care. In the context of urbanism, care focuses attention not only on how the built environment may reinforce social equalities or inequalities (as is the focus of explorations of the ‘just city’) but on how the multiplicity of people’s needs are recognised or not — such as through participation, collaboration and/or deliberation — and on the ‘humanity’ of citymaking practices in addressing them.

In making a case for ‘care for the city’, this book has two major aims. The first is to develop a theory of urban care, which is informed by the ethics of care. The second is to employ care ethics to provide enlightenment about a range of different ways of making urban communities, responding in the process to needs and matters of wellbeing: from the stewardship of estates held long-term by private landowners to the philanthropy of benevolent industrialists, the utopian collectivism of the Garden Cities Movement, the development of social housing under the welfare state, the management community recourses in planned communities in the USA by voluntary groups, public-private alliances in post-industrial regeneration and cooperatives. Each case study is used to show how particular needs and/or matters of wellbeing have been identified, addressed and, at times also produced through citymaking practices.

Overall, the book makes an argument for the value of care in urban theory as well as a perspective within design and development processes today — setting out why city-makers should care, how they may be able to care better, and what the future of either caring or not caring may bring.

Dr. Juliet Davis has been awarded a Research Leave Fellowship in the academic year of 2017-2018 to draft the manuscript for this book. The research has also been facilitated by funding from the Grosvenor Estate in 2015.


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