Spike the Homeless and Impoverished!

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Last week news broke that authorities and developers in London are filling in rich residential developments with steel or concrete spikes to keep homeless people from loitering or sleeping on the ground outside. The pictures of anti-homeless spikes in luxury housing units in London went viral on the social media. It sparked outrage among ordinary Londoners, condemning the spikes as dehumanizing, and even London’s Mayor Boris Johnson called the decision by developers as ‘ugly, stupid and self-defeating.’ Although the anti-homeless spikes, bum-free metal balls have spread throughout the globe, recently it has been getting a lot of people’s attention, thanks in large part to social media.

British activists recently led ‘Homes not Spikes’ protests in defense of the rights and dignity of the homeless. A left-wing activist group known as ‘London Black Revolutionaries’ dressed themselves as construction workers and poured concrete all over the metal spikes, outside shops and residential areas. But, still the protesters or activists can’t do much about the anti-homeless spikes panels that have been installed on private property.

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Artist Nils Norman calls these spikes as ‘defensive architecture’ strategy and in his book ‘The Contemporary Picturesque’ he displayed photos of surface spikes and other hostile urban designs that are situated in cities around the world. His website — http://www.dismalgarden.com/archives/defensive_architecture — shows more examples of these defensive architectures that could be found in London, Madrid, New York, Tokyo and elsewhere.

London’s ‘bum-proof’ benches with a sloping surface is mainly designed to deter skate-boarding and sleeping. These benches are wave shaped and central armrests are made from slippery stainless-steel materials. In China, they have come up with a different idea. A park in Shandong has introduced ‘pay-per-minute’ system for the use of park benches. Anyone who overstays in the bench will be treated to a series of studs that might suddenly emerge. In Tokyo, a public park is said to have sloped benches, which prevents sitters from leaning back.

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These inhumane, hostile architecture methods are believed to have risen after the 1990’s, when the ‘designing out’ initiative was proposed by urban construction firms. The ‘design out’ strategy aims to shape people’s perceptions by saying that, the spikes and metal balls will reduce crime in your area. It articulates that if you let these people slip by, then your area will be considered as derelict and in turn, the criminality will rise. So, it is evident to a point that this defensive architecture isn’t here to address the underlying problems of homelessness. It simply shifts the problem to another area. The defensive architecture, originally said to be ‘design against crime’ is gradually developing into ‘design against common public.’

Anti-skate architecture or anti-homeless spikes are only breeding resentments among the teenagers, activists and poor. It neglects poverty and social difference produced within the confines of a city. It clearly says that, ‘if you – the public – aren’t wealthy enough to sit in a restaurant, cafe or to loiter around malls, multiplexes, then you are not a member of the public who deserves to live in a city.

Hostile architecture

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