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Maryam Abutabikh

Bridging Belonging

Transforming Placelessness to Sense of Place for San Diego’s Refugee Community


El Cajon is a city in San Diego that has historically welcomed more refugees than any other city in California due to its longstanding ethnically diverse community. The cycle of resettlement is a complicated and underfunded process that often fails to tie loose ends related to trauma, culture shock, lost independence, and severely limited orientation to the city’s amenities and long-term programs. Public spaces act as significant nodes in refugee-populated areas as they serve as center points of cultural exchange and creativity. With an influx of refugees looming due to evolving political tensions and increased effects of climate change, the city of El Cajon must remediate its public interface to accommodate a growing population of asylum-seekers as well as their unique needs to facilitate sustainable community support. Through the creation of a flexible outdoor recreation space in El Cajon’s underutilized downtown, existing infrastructure can be enhanced to address the needs of the city’s growing refugee population to foster community-led programs emphasizing hope, cultural exchange, healing, and inclusion for residents seeking to regain self-autonomy in an unfamiliar environment.

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