“Hostile Architecture” is Discriminatory

Ramón Asunción Batista, Contributing Writer

Have you ever seen sectioned benches, sub-highway or road spikes or metal studs around fountains or walkways? Collectively these instruments are known as “hostile architecture,” or perhaps more succinctly, ‘anti-homeless’ architecture. Hostile architecture is the urban design strategy whereby certain structures or features of a space are built for the sole purpose of restricting certain kinds of occupation. Benches that have a dividing arm rest in the area, for instance, prevent people from laying down, especially homeless people. The message that this architecture conveys is ‘you are not welcomed here’.

Hostile architecture should not be used – its only purpose is to ignore the socio-economic issues of homelessness.

I live in the city of Boston, Mass., and constantly see the proliferation of hostile architecture. When I would go to school, I would have to take the MBTA, Boston’s public transportation subway, and sit in uncomfortable chairs for long periods of time waiting for the train to arrive. Instead of sleeping on the benches, our city’s homeless would sleep on the floors, or even in the subway trains.

This all illustrates perfectly a mentality of ‘us vs. them’. While improvements to resource access for homeless people should obviously be made, such as providing them with a home, hostile architecture is ‘kicking’ the homeless out of their only current option of home — the outdoors.

In the process, hostile architecture harms the elderly, people with disabilities and even pregnant women with their slanted chairs in public. It is a design that was built on the idea that people should not linger for so long and that the public is not a resting place. As a result, hostile architecture harms many groups of people beyond the homeless. 

Having hostile architecture designs creates an overall unwelcoming environment for the community. As governments and businesses use this urban design strategy it creates a less convenient environment for people. It is unethical that the government push away homeless rather than confront the root of the issue. Rather than trying to make the public city spaces available and accessible to all of the community, hostile architecture removes the ability to do that successfully.

It’s important while considering hostile architecture, though, to also know that homelessness is not the only problem. As I mentioned in the beginning, hostile architecture designers have included sectioned benches or under-road spikes, but it encompasses much more different urban design strategies to restrict and disallow the public from doing certain actions. For example, airports have installed segmented benches similar to the design found in the public where the benches are split evenly to hold one person, but prevent the passenger from sleeping. In a similar instance, malls have implemented segmented benches to keep shoppers from laying down. Parks and building complexes have followed the same suit where they have added metal notches to the walls and railings to keep skateboarders from grinding on their property.

Balancing the struggles of “where will I sleep tonight” and “I do not have access to the recourse I need” creates a difficult situation for the homeless. As the government continues to block areas through hostile architecture there is no means of helping. Homeless people are not the problem, it is a problem the country has not taken care of. The sole purpose for extracting hostile architecture is cities are trying to push away the homeless and have them feel as if they are unwelcomed.

If homeless people cannot get help from the government, they at least deserve the public places to create a temporary home. That cannot happen if cities and governments justify the acts of hostile architecture as protecting public safety, and increasing tourism and consumerism. 

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