How hostile architecture targets the homeless

Public places often contain benches, bus stations and other structures that are meant for use by everyone but in many cities, that is not the case. There is a practice in designing public spaces like this called hostile architecture. The goal of hostile architecture is to prevent specific behaviors like homeless people sleeping on public benches. These places are designed to be uncomfortable or unusable to the homeless. This is achieved in many different ways, from placing dividers in the middle of benches so that someone cannot lay down, to anti-homeless spikes on window sills.

Instead of solving the issue of homelessness, one of the most vulnerable groups in society is pushed out of the public places and out of the picture. The way that this architecture is designed, its hidden purpose is not immediately noticeable to people not affected. Homeless shelters have limited space in many cities, and in some cities getting to a shelter can be a challenge. Hostile architecture can affect other groups like the elderly and the disabled as well.

Recently in New York City, leaning benches were installed in many subway stations, where a plank was put up at an angle against the wall of the station. Instead of providing more places to rest in a crowded subway station, these leaning benches are inaccessible to the elderly and the disabled, the same thing is already achieved by having walls that people can lean on. A possible way to prevent hostile architecture is to more rigorously enforce the already present accessibility laws under the Americans With Disabilities Act designed to make sure that public places and accommodations are accessible to all people.

The framework to get rid of some of these unusable public accommodations is already in place, and just needs to be enforced. This, combined with new laws to protect vulnerable groups of people from this kind of design, can help make public spaces places that are truly for everyone.

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