Community Station

We must move beyond hospitality to inclusion

The UCSD-ALACRÁN Community Station is located in the Alacrán Canyon, a precarious Tijuana settlement near the border-wall that has become a shelter to hundreds of Haitian and Central American migrants. The UCSD-ALACRÁN Community Station is our fourth, and newest Community Station site.

Location + Partnership

Alacrán Canyon, Tijuana, BC, Mexico

The Alacrán Canyon is an informal settlement at the periphery of Tijuana adjacent to the borderwall, located in the most vulnerable section of Los Laureles Canyon, ravaged by the impacts of trash and erosion.

Embajadores de Jesús

Embajadores de Jesús is a religious organization led by Tijuana-based activist-pastor-economist Gustavo Banda Aceves and activist-pastor-psychologist Zaida Guillen. Together they acquired a small parcel of land many years ago in the Alacrán Canyon, just ½ mile from our UCSD-DIVINA Community Station site.

It was always their dream to build their home and their church on this land. But in the last years they decided instead to build emergency housing to shelter hundreds of Haitian refugees after the City of Tijuana turned its back on them. What began in 2016 as a few small structures built with their own hands, and the hands of the immigrants they house, has incrementally evolved into a full-on ecology of housing units and public spaces threaded into what seems like impossible canyon topography, ready to receive new arrivals by the hundreds and to absorb a variety of community uses and social support programs. They have named the project “Little Haiti.”

In 2019, the so-called “caravan” began to arrive in Tijuana. Gustavo and Zaida opened their doors to all, because, as they say, Central Americans, Mexicans, and Haitians are all a part of the same humanity.


Spatial Infrastructure

Emergency Housing as an Engine of Economic Development

With limited resources, our partners began construction of a refugee camp to provide shelter for migrants who continue to arrive in Tijuana in waves. With the help of skilled migrants, they began assembling their own emergency housing.

We seek not only to increase the housing capacity of the non-profit but to produce longer term solutions for families, embedded in a set of social programs co-developed through our UCSD-ALACRÁN Community Station, and an infrastructure of productivity, through economic incubators, fabrication shops, a nursery and an industrial kitchen.

The UCSD-ALACRÁN Community Station is the socioeconomic support infrastructure for the Santuario Frontera housing project. The housing “scaffolds” are built first with Mecalux maquiladora-made frames, and the Community Station provides spaces of fabrication, training and small-scale economic development to incrementally infill the interiors through phased occupancy.

The UCSD-ALACRÁN Community Station seeds an evolving sanctuary neighborhood. Because of existing environmental damage at the site, the neighborhood is organized by an ecological layer comprised of biofiltration systems, gabion wall-terracing and swales, which in turn organize accessibility and pedestrian circulation. Orchards, a farm, economic incubators and spaces for health, education and social service are programmed and managed collaboratively by the university and the community.

Social Infrastructure

Moving from Hospitality to Inclusion

As the needs of refugees become more complex over time, charity is not the appropriate model for building an inclusive society. We need to move from hospitality to inclusion. We are rethinking the refugee camp, from a place of short-term habitation and service provision to a durable socio-spatial infrastructure for inclusion.

The UCSD-ALACRÁN Community Station aspires to economic inclusion, supporting the rights of migrants to migrate, but also to remain if they choose. With the support of the PARC Foundation, we have assembled a community-owned business—The Little Haiti Construction Cooperative, with a tool library, wood and metal machines, and a couple of trucks and tractors. Our partners will complete construction of this site and remain operational for future construction jobs across Los Laureles Canyon.

We design spaces and pedagogical programming that integrate the migrant and her children into the civic, social and economic life of the city. The site is fast becoming a nexus for migrant support, research and outreach by many units across the UC San Diego campus, investigating the public health challenges of precarious human settlements as well as the role social impact investment can play to fortify informal urbanization and support incremental housing, job generation and local economy.




Fonna Forman, “Top-Down / Bottom-Up: Co-producing the City” in Political Theory and Architecture, eds. Duncan Bell and Bernardo Zacka. London: Bloomsbury, 2019, forthcoming

Fonna Forman and Teddy Cruz “Rethinking Hospitality in an Era of Global Closure,” Catalogue Essay in In/Out : Designing Inclusion and Hospitality, eds. Matthieu Berger and Miogag Mitrasinovic, Metrolab, 2017. https://www.academia.edu/37810963/Designing_urban_inclusion_2018_

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