FLOW Youth Center (Concept Paper) - Designing Justice + Designing Spaces
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FLOW Youth Center (Concept Paper)

The FLOW Youth Center stands for “For The Love of Well-being” and is a concept for a new piece of physical infrastructure — a building and the surrounding grounds — that brings together under one roof all the services needed by systems-impacted people.


Project Type: Building — Behavioral Health Infrastructure, Safe Spaces for Youth

Status: FLOW Concept Paper completed March 2022

Community Partners: La Defensa / JusticeLA Coalition (JLA) — Gabriela Vazquez, Kate McInerny, Eunisses Hernandez, Ivette Ale

Consulting Partners: HR&A AdvisorsLamont Cobb, Andrea Batista Schlesinger, Sarah Solon, Alejandra Cabrales, David DeVaughn, Rowan Wu, Cathy Li

DJDS Team: Ramy Kim (Project Manager), Adriana Barcenas (Intermediate Architectural Associate), Brandi Mack (Director of Community Engagement), Garrett Jacobs (Director of Project Evaluation and Research), Deanna Van Buren (Executive Director), Sabrina Siskind (Production Designer), Maryann Hulsman (Development Manager)


The Problem


Los Angeles ranks as the seventh worst out of 150 metro regions in the United States for its income inequality, and this inequality is defined by where you live. 

Los Angeles County also operates the largest jail system in the United States. Areas such as South Central, Compton, parts of the Antelope Valley, and Long Beach — all over 65% Black and Latinx and with the highest number of incarcerated individuals in the county — are far from job centers, contain under-resourced schools, have fewer outdoor spaces, lack quality health facilities, and expose residents to higher levels of pollution. 

Many Black and Latinx Angelenos — lacking access to opportunity, social supports, or stability within their neighborhoods, and more likely to be in a state of trauma as a result of repeated engagements with racist systems designed to not serve them — receive care for health and mental health challenges only when involved in the criminal legal system.

The lack of investment in Black and Latinx communities — and the overinvestment in mass incarceration — is particularly harmful for youth from under-resourced Black and Latinx communities.


Call to Action


In the last two years, Los Angeles County — with the help of community organizers including JusticeLA — has made important strides towards a restorative approach to its criminal legal system, particularly with the approval of the “Care First, Jails Last” report and Measure J (now known as Community First Care Investment). DJDS was invited early on to help implement the physical infrastructure for the resulting ATI Plan through an equitable community-driven process. 

In March 2020, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the “Care First, Jails Last” report, a roadmap with 114-evidence based recommendations for L.A. County and its departments to divert budget away from criminalization and incarceration into innovative systems of care that scale up access to housing, treatment, and physical and mental health care. 

In November 2020, the voters of Los Angeles County approved Measure J which dedicated no less than ten percent of the County’s locally generated unrestricted funding to address the disproportionate impact of racial injustice through community investments such as youth development, job training, small business development, supportive housing services, and alternatives to incarceration.

In designating new physical sites for “Care First, Jails Last” implementation — such as the F.L.O.W. Youth Center — governments in tandem with the community can begin to undo decades of systemic harm caused by the criminal legal system. 

DJDS’s belief is that doing so requires:

  1. Engaging communities in designing their own solutions so that the process itself is healing and impactful, since we believe communities know best what they need; 
  2. Ensuring that the work to provide alternatives to incarceration and deeply needed services is imprinted in the physical environment — at the same magnitude and reach that the system has imprinted racism in our communities through carceral facilities; and 
  3. That whatever we design has the ability to be scaled up and replicated so that we have the far-reaching impact across racial disparities that voters intended.


Our Proposal: The FLOW Youth Center


The opportunity to set a national trend is taking shape in L.A. County right now.

DJDS, JLA, and HR&A Advisors (HR&A) have partnered to propose and develop a piece of physical infrastructure — a building and the surrounding grounds — which we call the FLOW Youth Center. The FLOW Youth Center will consist of an accessible, safe physical space that addresses the root causes of youth incarceration and the lack of physical infrastructure and associated programming for holistic health services, education, and employment. 

If completed, the FLOW Youth Center would be a revolutionary hub of integrated services and care that would allow systems-impacted people to come to one place for: mental health services, justice programs, arts and culture, and work and learning spaces.


Next Steps


This Concept Paper describes an innovative and replicable process for radically inclusive, equitable, community-engaged design. To develop a robust, full concept for the project over eighteen months, we are seeking a $1,200,000 investment, with reproducibility and scalability in mind. 

The scalable process for the creation of the FLOW Youth Center — which will be documented along the way — will include:

  • the orchestration of service providers and developer partners
  • a comprehensive community-engaged process
  • site selection
  • financial modeling
  • and design visioning — the results of which can be used to initiate a capital campaign or apply for government funding


These new policies in L.A. County are setting a transformational roadmap for the rest of the country for how to transform the punitive justice system into a caring system of justice, yet DJDS is the only interdisciplinary architecture and real estate firm in the country committed to leading the creative visioning and implementation of this entirely new ecosystem of places and spaces.

For more information or to work with us on this project, please contact info@designingjustice.org.


Additional acknowledgments:

  • Youth Credible Messengers: Rudy Matta, Jeremy Bocel
  • Graphic Design & Illustration: Rosten Woo, Trevor Alixopulos
  • Additional Reviewers: Anthony Boyd, Tshaka Barrows, Patricia Soung, Brian Kaneda, Lex Steppling, Ambrose Brooks