It’s one of those things that, once you’ve seen, you can’t unsee. Once you’ve noticed the curved benches, the spikes embedded in doorways, the posts made for leaning rather than sitting, the carefully placed railings – even the planters placed in careful rows outside shops, you can no longer walk through a city without thinking about the fact that it is designed to prevent comfort.
The Concept of Hostile Architecture
The term “hostile architecture” refers to the design of urban environments that purposefully guides and restricts behavior. It includes elements such as sharp fins and benches, embedded spikes in doorways, and carefully placed railings. The intention behind such designs is to deter homeless people from resting in these areas, but it also has the added effect of making the city less comfortable for everyone else.
Impacts of Hostile Architecture
These sanitized spaces make everyone rush through them, reducing opportunities for chance encounters, community formation, and idle thought. It does not make an area feel more safe but impacts individuals in mean and insidious ways. The uncomfortable designs not only make it difficult for homeless individuals but also affect others, particularly those using wheelchairs or buggies. Moreover, they act as a constant reminder of the control exerted once individuals step outside.
Legislation and Homelessness
The Vagrancy Act, originally introduced 200 years ago, made rough sleeping a criminal offense. Despite government pledges to scrap it, new measures have emerged, allowing authorities to prosecute rough sleepers or anyone appearing homeless for being “likely to cause” a “nuisance”, leading to imprisonment and fines. This criminalization approach, rather than addressing the root causes of homelessness, serves to distance individuals from services that could help them.
Increasing Control Over Public Spaces
Amid the cost of living crisis, record numbers of people seek help accessing homeless services, food banks, and energy bill support. These spikes and other hostile architectural elements illustrate how public spaces are becoming increasingly unwelcoming. The trend indicates that public spaces are only open to those moving fast and spending money, revealing a society at war with itself.
Hostile architecture not only affects homeless individuals but also impacts the general public, restricting freedom and comfort in urban environments. The focus should shift towards creating inclusive and welcoming public spaces that cater to the needs of all individuals. It is crucial to address the root causes of homelessness and implement supportive measures, rather than resorting to punitive approaches. Ultimately, creating a truly inclusive and compassionate society requires a shift away from designs that prioritize control over genuine human needs.