City planning is certainly not an easy job, however, some city planners have taken a new approach to architecture that makes things difficult for nearly everyone living in cities, especially the homeless. This new approach goes by many names, including defensive design, hostile architecture, some even take to referring to it as simply “anti-homeless architecture.”
Characteristics of hostile architecture include putting a third arm rest in the middle of a bench, so that they cannot be used to lie down. Others include putting spikes on steps and stoops so they cannot be used as rest spots. City planners for the New York City Subway System sought to remove benches entirely as a part of their transformation plan. They replaced benches with “leaning bars.” No longer did commuters have a place to stop and rest but rather a beam to awkwardly lean on while they awaited their train.
This architecture sends a message to citizens. A shorter back board on a bench tells the user that they cannot sit on the bench forever. The intention is clear, to deter loiterers and solicitors who occupy public space for inappropriate amounts of time. However, these changes not only impact the general public in a negative way, but also harm one of the most disenfranchised groups in the world, the homeless.
It is impossible to deny that homelessness is one of the greatest crises facing not only the US, but the world at large. There are a myriad of theoretical economic and ethical solutions to this problem, but this poor excuse for progressive architecture is not the answer. For some homeless people, places like the MTA are the only safe havens they have to rest. With the continued installation of hostile architecture it can be forecasted that deaths of the homeless will rise exponentially, especially in the harsh winter months.
As mentioned previously, the implementation of defensive design into cities also has negative repercussions for the general public. When defensive design is implemented you lose the ability to stop and rest, to chit-chat with friends, or to enjoy your cup of coffee.
If you oppose the implementation of hostile architecture in your city, make an effort to petition and call your senators and city planners. Use the power of democracy to make a positive change in the communities that you care about!