I began to allude to the importance of accessibility in facilitating new patterns of care in the previous chapter, and the goal of this chapter is to consider in depth how urban design can mobilize notions of access to influence care needs, relations and practices. However, I begin the discussion with a quandary since two of the major goals of accessibility as constructed in the context of urban design theory have an uneasy relationship with the ideas of care and from the ethics of care which I have presented thus far. The first of these goals is personal autonomy. The accessibility of built form is often seen to shape the autonomy that people such as those with a mobility or sensory impairment have in looking after themselves and choosing how and where to live. The second goal is universality. The goal of accessible urban design, such as within the context of ‘universal design’ discourses, is seen to be the creation of city forms and places that are navigable by all, satisfying principles of inclusivity and equity (see, for example, Steinfeld and Maisel, 2012).
As outlined in the introductory chapter, care is a word that has evolved substantially over time, gathering different meanings and associations. These subtly vary depending on whether care is used as noun, a verb or an adjective. Adding complexity, care can denote a disposition, as in ‘caring about’ something, someone or an issue. But care also denotes a wider set of activities, as in ‘caring for’ a person, collective or thing in a practical sense (Noddings, 1984; Fine, 2006). Both meanings of care can of course be, and often are, interlinked within single uses of the word. In the early days of writing this chapter, I was reading to my young son The Lorax by Dr. Seuss (1971). It is a story of a tree species being exploited almost to extinction, with those involved in deriving economic benefit from it failing to comprehend its crucial importance for the health of a biodiverse ecosystem. Finally, at the end, once that ecosystem has been all but destroyed and the economy is on its knees too, a little boy who learns the story from former industrialist the Once-Ler and is given the last remaining seeds of the tree is motivated to plant them and take care of the emerging seedlings. The recovery of the landscape will depend, the Once-Ler tells him, melancholy with hindsight, on people like him caring ‘a whole awful lot,’ with the word care denoting both a disposition of deep concern about the damaged state of the world and the vast labour of care that would be required to make it a better place again. In an age when children across the world, inspired by Greta Thunberg, are taking on these sorts of labours of care for the environment for the sake of their own and their children’s futures, the story is no longer prophetic as it would have been in the early 1970s but rather reads as a commentary on the state of contemporary action against climate change.
Urban design has often been depicted by urban scholars as the antithesis of care as characterized in Chapter 1. Though urban forms and places are hugely varied, they have often been depicted as poorly attuned to the needs and capabilities of inhabitants. Such criticism can be detected, for example, in literature linking urban form to health outcomes, such as the extensive research exploring the relationship between urban sprawl and socio-medical conditions such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease (see, for example, Frumkin, 2002). It can be found in studies of the atmospheric qualities of urban form such as noise from streets, poor air quality and light pollution that have been connected to issues of physical health but also identified as stressors affecting mental health and wellbeing (see, for example, Tuan, 1974; Park and Evans, 2016). It can be found in the growing literature connecting urban design with the availability of such vital resources as water, including research on the impacts of public space design on the depletion or replenishment of the groundwater aquifers that healthy and resilient ecosystems depend on (for example, Lerner, 1990; Pickett et al, 2013). It can also be seen in critical assessments of the generic nature of much urban form and building leading to a sense of placelessness and social exclusions of diverse kinds. Generic design has often been seen to reflect universalizing conceptions and/or imaginary norms of human behaviour, anatomy and ability, and as ‘disabling’ (Hall and Imrie, 1999) to those who fail to adhere to them, who may include people with specific health conditions, mobility issues, learning difficulties or sensory impairments (see, for example, Burton and Mitchell, 2006).
In this important contribution to urban studies, Juliet Davis makes the case for a more ethical and humane approach to city development and management.
With a range of illustrative case studies, the book challenges the conventional and neoliberal thinking of urban planners and academics, and explores new ways to correct problems of inequality and exclusion. It shows how a philosophy of caring can improve both city environments and communities.
This is an original and powerful theory of urban care that can promote the wellbeing of our cities’ many inhabitants.
Throughout this book, I have shown that urban design offers a valuable lens for understanding how societies place and organize care. But I have also shown how urban design is key to addressing issues of care in contemporary cities worldwide, issues that span the changing place of care in contemporary society, the impacts of urban change on wellbeing and flourishing and the degradation of environments in the Anthropocene. To briefly recap, across the book’s substantive chapters, I have focussed on the potential for urban design to perform care through the placing and staging of care relations, the making of accessible urban places, the shaping of atmospheres both affective and aerographic, strategies enabling ongoing attunement through materiality to the changing contexts and contingencies of caringscapes, the cultivation of positive place-attachments and through care for the resources of a common world shared across the generations. Between them, these chapters and themes embrace all the dimensions of urban design that Carmona (2021) identifies, from the social to the perceptual, morphological, functional and temporal. These dimensions, though not always picked out explicitly, weave through all the chapters. The case study analyses have also explored the significance of design governance for care relations and practices.
These powerful words were spoken as part of an interview in a 2018 documentary called In the Shadow of the Shard, by the filmmaker and writer John Rogers. The film looks at how residents experience development pressure and urban change in a formerly industrial, Central London neighbourhood – Bermondsey. Traditionally a working-class, production-oriented district of London, Bermondsey lies just to the south of the River Thames, outside of the old twin cities of Westminster and London, urbanizing from the seventeenth century. Though long a peripheral place, since the late twentieth century Bermondsey has been the focus of expansions of the City of London’s office development and recognized as an ‘urban frontier’ of gentrification (Keddie and Tonkiss, 2010). The Shard – a ninety-five-storey, ‘super-tall’ (Graham, 2014) skyscraper designed by the Italian design practice Renzo Piano Building Workshop and built between 2003 and 2008 over the London Bridge railway station – is seen in the film as symbolic of the encroachments of the centre, the city, capitalism, iconic architecture, and middle-class residents on the neighbourhood.
This book sets out to consider the potential of urban design in terms of care in cities. It is concerned with how urban design supports the diverse inhabitants of cities in meeting their needs and developing capabilities, enabling them to thrive and flourish into the future. It is also concerned with the role of urban design with respect to care practices and relations – with its potential to condition the dependencies of people on others, to foster patterns of interdependence, and to enact care for future generations. For a long time, the potential of design with regard to care or caring was principally explored through particular spaces associated, for example, with the care of children, the elderly, refugees, homeless people, disabled people and the sick. The result is a rich and still rapidly growing corpus of studies of typologies of care-centred architecture – from the hospitals, hospices, historical asylums and day centres of healthcare, to the nurseries and schools of childcare, to the residential settings of care in families and communities
Over the last three chapters, we have looked at different ways in which urban design shapes care practices and relations, and considered how it can do so for the good and in ways reflective of an ethics of care. In this chapter, I move on to consider how it can attend to the ways in which care needs evolve through time. As Sophia Bowlby (2012) puts it, taking a long-term view of care reveals how ‘our need for physical care varies through the lifecourse, from the physical dependence of the child to the physical competence of the adult, and the growing physical and sometimes mental dependence of people as they age’. As care needs change, of course, we can understand the practices that attend to them as also being in flux, continually changing. How they change, in turn, as I briefly discussed in Chapter 2, has implications for the spaces, infrastructures, technologies and materials that care practice enrols and requires in different circumstances and contexts. Here, I build on that discussion, asking about the strategies that urban design might develop in attending to the unfolding and transformation of needs for care over different stages of the lifecourse. Picking up on the quote above by the Indian architect Balkrishna Doshi, it asks about the forms of openness in urban design that might allow people to change their lifestyles within place.
The project in question here, as described by its designer, the architect Stephen Witherford, is conceptualized as an “almshouse for the twenty-first century”. Located on a high street in the inner-city neighbourhood of Bermondsey, South London, it provides housing for around ninety elderly people. Designed to be open and, to an extent, continuous with the public spaces and social interactions of the high street rather than merely as an object building contained and defended within the boundaries of its site, it has been conceived by the practice Witherford Watson Mann as a node in a complex network of caring practices, relationships and spaces that extend out into the surrounding neighbourhood and beyond. As such, it exemplifies a trend in the design of eldercare in the UK, as in many other nations globally, involving the development of what are termed deinstitutional models of care in place of traditional models within bounded institutional settings. These new models encompass varied combinations of formal care services and informal types of care made available to people living outside of traditional institutions such as nursing homes. They pertain to a wide array of spaces too, from the long-term family home where someone may wish to age-in-place, to day care centres where people may go for a few hours to receive particular forms of support beyond the home, to residential accommodation such as the almshouse where people may live relatively independently but with help, services and resources close at hand.
In Chapter 4 I touched on the notion of atmosphere in the context of the design firm WES’s work, where it was framed as part of the liveability and accessibility of a street. I did not unpack the notion of urban atmosphere and its wider relevance to care practices and relations, however. I do this now in this chapter. As discussed in Chapter 2, the notion of atmosphere is complex, encompassing different meanings, areas of knowledge and modes of investigation. On the one hand, the atmosphere denotes the layers of gases, held in place by gravity, that surround a planet or other celestial body. The earth’s atmosphere is made up of five major layers together forming a continuous envelope about 480 kilometres thick around our planet. It plays a key role in supporting life on earth, constituting the air that organisms breathe, shielding the planet from ultraviolet (UV) radiation and keeping it warm through its insulating properties. The atmosphere, in these terms, including atmospheric conditions and weather patterns, is a focus of study within the physical and life sciences.