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Incorporating features like seating into public spaces can be one way of thinking about “care” in design. Another is considering how the space will be maintained — and the people who will do the maintenance. 

Incorporating features like seating into public spaces can be one way of thinking about “care” in design. Another is considering how the space will be maintained — and the people who will do the maintenance. 

Photographer: Marianne Purdie/Moment RF
CityLab
Design

What It Means to Design a Space for ‘Care’

Planners and designers are linking labor, social services and maintenance to building projects by prioritizing the concept of “care.”

A municipal Department of Care could make sure the trash was picked up and the tree pits were weeded. A Department of Care could pay teens to tend to public spaces and teach them stewardship skills. A Department of Care could check on seniors in a heat wave and basement apartment dwellers in a flood. A Department of Care would start by asking, as urban designer Justin Garrett Moore suggests: What do you need? What do you hope will change? How can we best accomplish this?

Of course, the Department of Care doesn’t exist — yet — but the concept of care as a driver for city planning is already gaining traction. Designers, planners, curators and historians are talking about care for an obvious reason: The pandemic exposed just how much labor is involved in child care, health care, street and park maintenance, and technological upkeep. U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke last month at an event hashtagged #CareCan’tWait about the importance of fair pay and training for care workers — and Build Back Better could go even further.