The calming feeling of the cool breeze ruffling through one’s hair or the grounding feeling of the wooden bench beneath as you take in the sun shining down on the serene lake comes to mind when recreational public spaces are discussed. However, the unpleasant characteristics of these spaces are neglected to keep up the charade of the supposed breaks that these settings provide from the hustle of everyday life. Hence, it is important to recognize the strategies that are adopted in these areas to isolate certain groups of people that are deemed undesirable by our society.
Hostile architecture is when urban features are designed specifically to ensure the discomfort of certain unwelcome groups. While these prove to be minor inconveniences to most of the populace, the lifestyle of those most vulnerable is massively impacted.
There are more than half a million homeless people in the US alone. They struggle to eat, find sustainable clothes, or viable shelter. The metal bars and inclines on the benches prevent these people from seeking comfort even in sleep. Living without the comfort of a roof is a daunting task that is made more difficult when one’s sense of community is snatched away as encampments are ruined through the installation of sprinklers and bike racks. Retailers in the UK have also taken to placing spikes near the entrances to prevent squatters from getting a much-needed reprieve from the scorching sun. The hostility towards homelessness is further exemplified through hidden public cameras that are used to survey the activities of homeless people and help architects design attributes that limit their activity in the region.
Unsurprisingly it is not just people who are being targeted by these traits of hostile architecture. The spikes in footpaths are meant to deter stray animals as much as homeless people. Moreover, cities like Bristol have taken to installing spikes in trees over parking spaces to ensure that birds are prevented from defecating over the cars below. Stray animals like squirrels and birds have always known the public parks to be their homes. If steps are being taken to actively turn their places of habitat into hazardous traps, it is vital that we as a society question our morals.
The public authorities around the world seem fixated in ensuring the invisibility of homeless people in their communities. Rather than utilizing capital to provide better mental health and educational services for the underprivileged, funds appear to be diverted to establish the aforementioned pieces of hostile architecture. This caters to the bourgeoisie’s need for a perfect society wherein they can ignore the plight of the underprivileged and maintain their guiltless conscience, while chasing a materialistic goal. It is essential that we recognize the hostile architecture around us and understand its negative impacts on those vulnerable because it is paramount that the need of the endangered supersedes the comfort of the bourgeoisie.