Audio: Fade in Hallelujah by Guitar Mark
Introduction: Welcome to our podcast, Where People See People. I’m Gracie Quinn and I’m Charlotte Roberts. As a reminder, each month we will produce a podcast on a teachable topic. Today follows a topic, anti-homeless architecture, that finds a home even in La Crosse. In this podcast, we will explore the history, purpose, design, and alternatives to anti-homeless architecture.
Audio: sound effects of a gate closing
Crouched in a squatting position to avoid the metal spikes beneath their bodies and in an attempt to remove themselves from the harsh elements of the outdoors, many people who experience homelessness are reminded that they must exist as invisible. These metal spikes often found in cities along window sills and entryways represent a type of hostile architecture. Some people refer to this architecture as defensive of disciplinary architecture and others refer to the architecture as anti-homeless architecture (Petty, 2016). Whereas, the terms for this architecture appear modernized, the long history of the architecture traces back to the Middle Ages (Eisenberg & Khamisy, 2021). Consider the architecture many know as anti roosting spikes used as a form of animal control now added to the ledges of windows and doorways to repel humans from sitting, standing, waiting, and sleeping. Hostile architecture does not repel just any humans, the carefully constructed design aims to shift a selective group of people out of specific spaces by making them uninhabitable (Petty, 2016). This style of architecture invaded the United States landscape during the 1980s, 1990s, and the current surge in its development stems from discrimination that targets vulnerable populations. Today, many cities refer to hostile architecture as defensive planning techniques.
Audio: sound effects of a rooster
Purpose: As we delve deeper into the idea of hostile architecture, the sad reality of its harsh goals sets in. As Charlotte mentioned, the utilization of the architecture did not stay the same overtime and changed from animal control to human control--a switch that comes full of shame. The overarching goal of the architecture aims to keep homelessness hidden from the public eye. Oftentimes, people experience discomfort around those who face homelessness. Some individuals avoid making eye contact or shift to the opposite side of the street to place distance between themselves and those displaced to the streets. As a kind friend recently told us, when he lived on the streets, people would often not meet his gaze and that blatant disregard for his life equated him to less than human. On the surface, humanity displays our differences far quicker than our similarities. In addition to hostile architecture aimed at hiding homelessness, it also intends to discourage unwanted behavior. For example, anti-homeless architecture keeps people from spending too much time in one location. Some forms of hostile architecture prevail very subtly in order to avoid questions from the public. Therefore, the design of the architecture does not allude to any specific purpose. One instance of anti-homeless architecture that pervades our own city landscape exists in places where people go to stay warm--the parking ramps. Sloped metal grates found in the stairwells aim to keep people from sleeping in the alcoves or sitting on the walls. In addition to the hostile architecture, individuals seeking a place to stay warm risk citations and warnings for seeking refuge in parking ramps. Furthermore, targeting a specific population, hostile architecture pushes individuals out of cities where resources reside. One must consider, if individuals experiencing homelessness get pushed out of public spaces, can anything truly stand as public, especially if it excludes people that need it most?
Audio: sound effects of a train track
Often we dismiss hostile architecture, such as concrete walls, wrought iron gates, and spiked fences as part of the landscape. The privatization of public spaces continues to increase and with this increase hostile architecture prevails. Barbed wire fences used for livestock represent a different purpose when used for humans. Barriers and deterrents of hostile architecture exist in a multitude of forms, including curved surfaces to increase the risk of sliding off benches, studs, spikes, and metal dividers to decrease sitting, standing, and sleeping in certain areas, as well as graded surfaces and protruding metal to create discomfort when attempting to find a place to rest. Beyond actual architecture, cities install automated water sprinklers and security cameras to discourage those living on the streets from occupying a space. The list of obstructions aimed at keeping those who experience homelessness from inhabiting space also include anti urination paint, ultraviolet lighting, and sirens. Ultimately, the multi faceted layers taken to inhibit individuals from finding a place to rest far exceeds the support.
Audio: sound effects of jackhammers
Alternatives: Rather than spending a substantial amount of money on hostile architecture, cities must invest in programs and organizations that aim to end homelessness. When we look at numbers of those experiencing homelessness who also face mental illness, addiction, and childhood trauma, available resources do not meet the intense need for support. Time after time, when we sit down to do an interview we hear stories of childhood trauma, abuse, or addiction. Homelessness reveals how lines blur between mental illness, trauma, and addiction. Often we cover up homelessness by removing it from the public’s eye through hostile architecture. An alternative to this deterrent that aims to solve the long term problems rather than perpetuate them includes developing daytime shelters, providing affordable housing, and increasing detox and recovery programs. The exclusivity and discrimination of hostile architecture cannot represent the answer to solving homelessness. We must find hope and kindness in the generosity of strangers and create solutions to homelessness rather than hostility. Whereas, we may not hold all the answers to solving homelessness, anti-homeless architecture remains a dark shadow to cast on the stigma against homelessness and further perpetuates the dilemma of providing resources to a vulnerable population. This threatening cloud enforces hate, not help.
Audio: sound effects of people talking
Closing: Thank you for tuning into this month’s podcast by People Seeing People. I’m Gracie Quinn and I’m Charlotte Roberts. The place where people see people.
Audio: Fade out Hallelujah by Guitar Mark
Architecture and Design
New York’s Images of Anti-homeless Hostile Architecture
Rethinking the Future