Girl On Bench With Backpack

Anti-Homeless Architecture: How Cities Are Punishing Homelessness

Cities across the globe are making changes to the ways that public spaces are designed. To the normal passerby, these changes don’t make much of a difference. You may have noticed more benches with armrests or metal pieces added to stone walls seemingly to create individual seats. However, if we look at it through a different perspective, we can see how detrimental these changes are. Public spaces following this design structure are part of a phenomenon called “Hostile Architecture.” 

No, you cannot lay on this stone wall (Boston, MA) from r/HostileArchitecture

Hostile architecture is an intentional design strategy that prohibits certain behavior in urban spaces. It is most commonly used to prevent homeless people from sleeping in public spaces. These design methods discriminate against an already at-risk population. It is done in such a subtle and strategic way that most won’t even notice how detrimental these changes are. 

According to the Council of Economic Advisors, around 550,000 people experience homelessness in a given night, and nearly 1.4 million people will spend time in a shelter in a year. Even with this high of a homelessness rate, cities are choosing to punish homelessness rather to create solutions to the issue of homelessness. Cities need to do more to solve the problem and help people in such a vulnerable state. 

Unfortunately, this phenomenon isn’t found only in the US, but across the globe. With the rise of homelessness due to the refugee crisis, more people find themselves sleeping on the streets in many European cities. City planners are placing large rocks or spikes in open spaces to prevent people from sleeping in those areas. With so many shelters having so few beds, more people are forced onto the streets. Hostile architecture further limits the space in which people can sleep. This is a humanitarian issue. With cities hurting the homeless population in such a subtle way, this behavior is going severely unnoticed. 

It’s outrageous that we as a society are standing by while hundreds of thousands of people are sleeping on the street. It’s even worse that governments are choosing to punish this behavior rather than enact policies that will help these people. I hope in the future the money that is spent to create this architecture will go to creating housing or other solutions to the homelessness crisis in the world. People shouldn’t be treated as cosmetic issues for cities. Their lives matter and the harm being done to them should be stopped. 


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