The Design of the Disenfranchised

In our field, we focus on desires of clients – those paying for our services.  However, in public arenas those who will regularly utilize the designed space must also be considered. It is important to include and accommodate individuals who may not have a voice in the design process, but rely on and benefit from the public spaces the most.

Historically, the field of landscape architecture has deterred the homeless from such spaces.  Benches and public toilets were removed, hedges cut to the ground, security cameras were installed, and seating areas were adorned with “anti-homeless” measures. These prevented anyone from remaining in one spot for too long. Designers and municipalities realized, however, these implementations created unfriendly landscapes, unpleasant to everyone, not just the homeless.

Walter Hood, an inspiring leader in community design, focuses on creating meaningful spaces for people of all backgrounds. Lafayette Square Park in Oakland, California exemplifies his work. With its redesign in the 1990’s, Hood packs amenities inspired by the needs and desires of current users of the park, mostly the homeless and previously excluded members of nearby neighborhoods. Instead of a multi-use common area, Hood creates subspaces within a larger, inclusive framework.  Each subspace addresses different community needs rather than adhering to a “one-size-fits-all” attitude. The design is visually cohesive, using tactics including: low curvilinear walls, topographic changes, and a variety of paving materials.

A more recent example of inclusive design is featured in the February 2014 issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.  Bud Clark Commons [pictured left] is a multi-service transitional housing facility serving Portland, Oregon’s homeless population.

Although a private entity, the design and amenities in the exterior areas provide insight into design of public spaces.  The exterior design, by Mayer/Reed Landscape Architecture, mimics the layout of a home with a welcoming entrance (foyer), storage for belongings (closet), circulation and queuing area (hallway), and seating area for individuals awaiting service (living room).  Umbrella shade, vegetation, waterfeatures, and warm colors create a calming atmosphere for those seeking services.Inclusive Design is not about creating areas for the homeless, but creating inclusive spaces for a broad range of people.  By including the needs and desires of different groups, public spaces become more vibrant, meaningful and successful.  There is no formula for creating effective public places but using this approach may redefine “public space” and its role in landscape architecture and our communities.

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