Awards Focus: Criminalized for their Very Existence

LAM is highlighting student and professional winners from the 2021 ASLA Awards by asking designers to share an outtake that tells an important part of their project’s narrative.

Criminalized for Their Very Existence: The Spatial Politics of Homelessness

Student Research Award of Excellence

Image courtesy Jared Edgar McKnight, Associate ASLA.

“So much of my project’s foundation was rooted in research into the Los Angeles Municipal Code and the data and statistics that revealed the criminalization that exists for unhoused individuals in Los Angeles, but it was not until I performed my interviews with a group of LGBTQIA+ unhoused youths in Los Angeles that I really found the soul of my project. These listening sessions inspired the designs that populated my radical re-imagination of a streetscape in Skid Row. Each of the ‘pavilions to recharge your humanity’ that I envisioned extends supportive services into the public realm and was inspired by a unique story or idea that was shared with me during those interviews. Those ideas, however big or small, were intimately narrated at the human scale through memories or accounts of one’s personal experiences on the street, and during the interviews, I started sketching and telling those stories through interventions that would eventually extend those supportive services and resources in a welcoming and inviting way.”

  —Jared Edgar McKnight, Associate ASLA


About Criminalized for Their Very Existence:

Conceived as a “survival guide” for Los Angeles’s unhoused community, this justice-oriented, ethnographic design research project spatializes the Los Angeles Municipal Code, the policy that, among other things, prohibits sitting, sleeping, or lying on sidewalks and in public spaces, and proposes a new streetscape typology that is more human-centered. Informed by repeated site visits to L.A.’s Skid Row and more than 30 in-person interviews, including conversations with LGBTQIA+ individuals, this project uses extensive mapping and data visualization to synthesize the various opaque, often discriminatory rules, codes, and ordinances that govern human behavior and to vividly render the present-day reality in which “almost every instance of one’s daily life and routine is punishable while unhoused.” The project engages multiple scales and approaches to make legible the numerous legal restrictions aimed at unsheltered populations and proposes a framework—a network of safe spaces that can evolve over the course of a 24-hour cycle to meet the unique needs of the unsheltered, establishing an alternative infrastructure of compassion and justice. Through the recodification of urban space, L.A.’s civic landscape transitions from one of criminalization to accommodation.

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