The Urban Belonging of Public Housing Residents and the Form of Public Space: A Case Study of the Victoria Commons Development in San Antonio, Texas
Many of the social problems notoriously rampant in American public housing communities can, in part, be traced back to a lack of community among residents and between residents and the wider city. Though there are many potential reasons for this social isolation, this thesis argues that the primary reasons are structural, systemic, and form-based. In seeking to improve community for public housing residents, the form and design of public space integrated into housing developments can be used increase socialization and neighboring. This thesis utilizes a case study – Victoria Commons, a mixed-income neighborhood in downtown San Antonio, Texas, which includes a public neighborhood park, Labor Street Park – to what the built environment can do for community. Using spatial analysis based on Jan Gehl’s design frameworks, this research examines the park and other community features for quality and potential use. This analysis is then compared to use analysis through participant observation, as well as open-ended interviews. This research recommends ways that urban design can expand the physical boundary of community, deepen the quality of community interactions, and finally observes scenarios where urban design is unable to overcome structural obstacles to community. The results show that the park is successful at expanding levels of community based on social interaction, is less effective at progressing those interactions into more permanent social ties, and when taken in context of increasing the residents’ “right to the city,” the potential of form is inhibited by dominant urban power structures.