create / 2014

Our Skid Row Community Design Studio

Our Skid Row Community Design Studio

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Skid Row Housing Trust

Our Skid Row transforms the homeless capital of LA into a thriving neighborhood with people, placemaking, and participatory design


Please describe yourself.

Proposed collaboration (we want to work with partners!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

Our Skid Row transforms the homeless capital of LA into a thriving neighborhood with people, placemaking, and participatory design

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

  • Central LA

What is your idea/project in more detail?

Our Skid Row Community Design Studio (Our Skid Row) will be a new hub where Skid Row residents, downtown stakeholders, and active Angelenos design a better place to call home. Our Skid Row is built on the foundation that everybody holds expertise around their experience living in the built environment, everybody should participate in shaping their neighborhood, and everybody needs to live in an equitable community. Through community-engaged research, participatory design workshops and design-enrichment programs, built installations and public dialog, Our Skid Row community will design catalytic projects that will appropriately improve the neighborhood in the short term, while pushing for an equitable vision for long-term sustainability.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

Our Skid Row is composed of three core programs: community-engaged research, participatory design workshops, and public actions.

Community-engaged research will have residents actively investigate issues of the neighborhood while collecting supporting data and continuing community engagement and outreach. Instead of Skid Row residents being the subject of research, Our Skid Row plans to switch the role and have Skid Row residents pose questions, implement fieldwork to collect supporting information and draw conclusions from the process. Accessible and impactful research tools, such as graphic surveys and interpretive mapping will be tested and refined to maximize impact. Additionally, the participation station- a mobile design kiosk will be available for additional data collection, conversation, and street workshops.

Participatory design workshops will create an outlet for residents and stakeholders to engage in generating design solutions to community identified issues. Our Skid Row will work with resident designers to move through an iterative process that begins to represent possible solutions. Design support will come from in-house staff, as well as our network of nationally recognized leaders in design and community-engaged planning. Additionally, continuous design workshops will hone in on developing drawing and technical design skills. Short design activities will provide low-commitment outlets for artistic and creative expression. Workshops will include model-making exercises, photography and drawing. Resident facilitators will also be trained, so that they can lead the design process as well.

Public Actions will focus on events and built works in the community that celebrate the neighborhood, provide new resources, and support meaningful connections. With Our Skid Row designers, we will create public events that foster a larger dialog around the power of place and equitable community development. Additionally, small built works will be installed in the community to amplify existing assets and provide new amenities to the area. This will be an opportunity to share the successes of our Skid Row with Los Angeles and beyond.

We will celebrate Skid Row as a place of design innovation!

How will your idea/project help make LA the best place to CREATE today? In 2050?

Our Skid Row will provide a creative outlet for Angelenos to explore collective definitions of sustainable and equitable place-making. The project functions on multiple scales and time frames. In the 2050 time table, Our Skid Row lays out a roadmap for a socially and physically sustainable community though a comprehensive neighborhood plan and implementation strategy. For today, Our Skid Row residents will identify specific underutilized spaces, and design catalytic projects that will begin steps towards the long-term vision.

Our Skid Row creates a platform for Skid Row residents, small business owners, and other committed stakeholders, to be involved in the creative design process and actively shape their environment. The goal is to bring design out of the ivory tower and put design decisions and direction in the hands of the end user, so that communities can create the most impact and generate greater diversity in the conversation of community development.

Additionally, tools and processes will be closely documented and shared on our website, so that we can foster additional innovations in participatory design and encourage other communities to positively impact their built environment.

Our Skid Row will develop local creative jobs to Skid Row residents, opportunities for young designers to hold positions in public interest design, and volunteers from across the city to engage in improving Los Angeles. Additionally, the project supports the community to think critically about their built condition and analytically develop skills that can positively change their community.

Whom will your project benefit?

Multiple publics will benefit from Our Skid Row, including Skid Row residents, downtown stakeholders, and Los Angeles County. The residents, both the housed and unhoused population, will have the opportunity to voice their visions and generate design solutions for their own neighborhood. This is an opportunity to increase a sense of ownership and civic involvement in their community. Additionally, community-driven improvements to the neighborhood will begin building bridges to the rapidly developing downtown area, creating shared resources and amenities, and opportunities for interaction between residents, business owners, and visitors, creating a more cohesive region. Lastly, Los Angeles County will benefit from focused efforts to equitably develop the lowest income and most under-resourced area of the region.

Specifically, existing organizations and residents in Skid Row will have access to affordable and pro-bono design resources that did not exist before. By creating a design outlet in the area, residents will have additional activities to contribute to. We will work together to design, build, and install small-scale design interventions in the public realm. The design and development process will also create many opportunities for volunteerism and community-engagement.

At first, building small scale projects can support new programs and offer new amenities that are lacking in the area. This can lead to larger infrastructural developments, attract private impact investments, and may offer local job opportunities along with physical improvements.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

Our Skid Row will be a community resource that all neighborhood organizations and residents have access to. We will also leverage our design network to enhance design support resources and build upon existing collaborations and partnerships with organizations in the community. Three critical factors are outreach, accessibility, and continuity. To ensure welcomed participation of all residents and organizations in the area, street and organizational outreach will be implemented for all programming. Activities will be accessible and will not limit participation due to lack of technical abilities. Lastly, programming will be continuous to nurture cumulative growth, involvement and leadership development.

How will your project impact the LA2050 “Create” metrics?

  • Employment in creative industries
  • Arts establishments per capita
  • Federal research grant funding
  • Jobs per capita
  • Number of high-growth startups
  • Venture capital investment
  • Percentage of graduates from local higher education institutions that remain in LA County 5 years after graduating (Dream Metric)
  • Unemployment rates (and opportunities) for the formerly incarcerated (Dream Metric)

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

Our Skid Row will create 3 new employment opportunities in the community design field, with at least one position for local residents. This will be the first design focused institution in Skid Row, adding to existing arts programs and collectives- many of which have been operating for many years. Rather than focus on just creating individual designers, the goal of Our Skid Row is to collect design intentions, create collective design solutions, and have design reflect the culture of the community in the built environment. The process is inclusive and built on active participation and civic engagement. With the ability to design and build small projects, these can accumulate leverage larger more substantial improvements such as public works improvements, attracting capital investments and seeding additional start-ups. Skid Row can be re-perceived as a leader in the design community!

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

  1. Quantity of participation • Keep a scorecard of participation and track the number of people in design workshops and activities with a goal of reaching at least 2,000 participants through workshop attendance and research surveys.

  2. Quality of engagement • Use evaluation surveys for input after each session to understand what exercises were successful and effective. • Measure success by attaining a 75% participant satisfaction rate, based on content, inclusion, and engagement. Build upon feedback to confirm high-impact events.

  3. Collective decision-making • Consensus approval for the proposed design projects (75% approval by attendees at public workshops)

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

  1. Solutions that are not generated and supported by the community will fail. No matter how good the intentions are, without community buy-in and a shared sense of ownership, solutions that do not engage the people will not adequately address the specific nature of the problem.

  2. Iteration is key. Design processes are not linear. Often you need, review, refine, and adjust. Again. And again. You must stay flexible and maintain the ability to change processes and tools, so that you maximize impact and quality.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

The programming of Our Skid Row is built upon the funded efforts to create a comprehensive participatory neighborhood planning process to develop a long-term vision for equitable development in the Skid Row neighborhood (www.ourskidrow.org) . Currently, neighborhood mapping that investigates land use and narrative documentation of street views is underway. Logistically, Our Skid Row operates a temporary storefront that currently headquarters all its programs including, Open Studios. Collaborative design workshops with many local organizations including LA CAN, Downtown Women’s Center, Lamp Arts Community, and others are planned for August and September. The start-up logistics of Our Skid Row have already been funded and foundational programs are already in progress.

In September-December 2014, we will begin research to identify potential sites for short term improvement. Jan-March 2015, we will work on securing access and permission to temporarily build or permanently improve a site in Skid Row, which continuing community-engaged research to identify and design appropriate programs for activation. We will continue to work with partner organizations to increase input and resident participation. From March 2015-June 2015, we will work to design the proposed project. July-August 2015 we will build and celebrate the community asset.

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

Meaningful participation and resident involvement is key to the success of the project, but sometimes difficult to cultivate. To support outreach efforts, a resident will be hired as an Outreach coordinator to focus on generating a strong resident base.

Lateral design decision-making is difficult to achieve. To ensure we are able to arrive a collective agreements, all activities and workshops will be open for full participation and the design development process will be fully transparent, with participants facilitating the process. Hierarchical terminology, processes, and preconceptions will be actively avoided.

What resources does your project need?

  • Network/relationship support
  • Money (financial capital)
  • Publicity/awareness (social capital)
  • Infrastructure (building/space/vehicles, etc.)
  • Technical infrastructure (computers, etc.)
  • Community outreach
  • Quality improvement research