Degree Year


Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Comparative American Studies


Wendy Kozol
Gina M. Perez
Chris Howell


Criminalization, Homelessness, City planning, Urban policy, Redevelopment, Neoliberalism, Public space, Aesthetics, Public-private partnerships, San Francisco, Union Square


This thesis examines how San Francisco vies for attention on an international stage, through destination cultivation and image management that is dependent on the criminalization of homelessness. This intertwined practice of aesthetic transformation with the rendering of homeless bodies as nonnormative and therein “removable” has fundamentally transformed public space in San Francisco. Public space redevelopment has been carried out through city planning, selective destruction and displacement, increased policing and securitization, and a rearticulation of social services and notions of “care” linked to punitive enforcement of the law. Neoliberalization of the built environment has engulfed thought on homelessness. As a result, municipal homeless policy is consumed by the practice of removing homeless people from “public” space in order to uphold aesthetic order. San Francisco homeless management in turn fails to challenge the structural causes behind homelessness and instead works to accommodate homelessness. This reproduces a logic that ignores injustices as a means of advancing neoliberal structures of global capitalism and is increasingly concerned with the isolation of poverty, boundary policing, and visible order.

This work displays how market logics, commodification, and punitive discipline are articulated through primary sources like San Francisco’s 1985 Downtown Plan, SRO destruction and displacement, the Union Square redesign, Union Square Business Improvement District literature and policy, “quality of life” laws, the San Francisco 311 app, mayoral campaigns to end homelessness, and Union Square Cares, a homeless service program operated by local businesses. Together these practices and technologies are part of a process of neoliberalization in San Francisco that erodes public space. Through a case study of Union Square, this redevelopment, city marketing, and aestheticization of space becomes clear, as does the criminalization and spatial management of homelessness used in order to facilitate it. Within this locality, politicians, public-private partnerships, residents, and tourist-consumers reproduce a process of spatialized violence that denies homeless people the right to occupy public space while remaking the city for prospective consumers.