Using Trauma-Informed Design to Address Intergenerational Trauma Caused by Systemic Oppression in Segregated Communities

by Charlotte Rose, Student ASLA

Graphics from a UC Denver studio project that applied trauma-informed design and universal design principles to Mestizo-Curtis Park in Five Points, Denver, a neighborhood historically characterized by redlining that continues to experience the ongoing impact of housing discrimination. / image: Charlotte Rose

Segregated communities in various parts of the world have long been subjected to systemic oppression, resulting in enduring cycles of trauma that span generations. Systemic oppression can manifest in the form of racial discrimination, economic disparities, lack of access to quality education, healthcare, and other basic resources, and the perpetuation of social stereotypes. These communities often face a multitude of challenges, including high levels of stress, violence, substance abuse, and mental health issues due to the cumulative effects of historical and contemporary injustices.

Intergenerational trauma refers to the transmission of trauma and its effects across multiple generations within a community. It is a complex phenomenon that has deep-seated roots in historical injustices such as slavery, colonization, and institutional racism. This ongoing trauma hinders the well-being and development of individuals and communities, perpetuating a cycle that is difficult to break.

Trauma-informed design, a concept rooted in trauma-informed care principles, recognizes the need to create environments that are sensitive to the experiences of trauma survivors. While commonly applied in healthcare and social services, the application of trauma-informed design principles in the built environment and community planning is an emerging field. This approach emphasizes safety, empowerment, and the prevention of re-traumatization in physical spaces and social interactions.

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