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Doors Open, But The Welcome Mat Is Gone

There is a dichotomy between DoorsOpenTO and the City's use of defensive architecture. This weekend, the City of Toronto makes an event out of opening its doors to the public. At the same time, the city installs and supports the installation of defensive or hostile architecture designed to shoo people away.

“Making our urban environment hostile

breeds hardness and isolation.

It makes life a little uglier for all of us.”

Here are 10 tales – short stories that highlight the social and emotional impact of hostile architecture in urban centres around the world.

Part 1 -

"Sleeping rough opened my eyes to the city's barbed cruelty."

From protrusions on ledges to metal park benches with solid dividers, from water sprinklers to loud muzak, urban spaces are aggressively rejecting soft, human bodies.

We see these measures all the time within our urban environments, from Toronto or Tokyo, but we fail to process their true intent.

"I hardly noticed them before I became homeless in 2009."

An economic crisis, a death in the family, a sudden breakup and an even more sudden breakdown were all it took to go from a six-figure income to sleeping rough in the space of a year.

It was only then that I started scanning my surroundings with the distinct purpose of finding shelter and the city’s barbed cruelty became clear."

Part 2 -

“When you’re designed against, you know it,” says Ocean Howell, who teaches architectural history at the University of Oregon, speaking about anti-skateboarding designs.

“Other people might not see it, but you will. The message is clear:

"You are not a member of the public.

At least not of the public that is welcome here.”

The same is true of all defensive architecture. The psychological effect is devastating.

There is a wider problem, too. These measures do not and cannot distinguish the “vagrant” posterior from others considered more deserving.

When we make it impossible for the dispossessed to rest their weary bodies at a bus shelter, we also make it impossible for the elderly, for the infirm, for the pregnant woman who has had a dizzy spell.

By making the city less accepting of the human frame, we make it less welcoming to all humans. By making our environment more hostile, we become more hostile within it.

Part 3 -

Hostile architecture is revealing on a number of levels, because it is not the product of accident or thoughtlessness, but a thought process.

It is a sort of unkindness that is considered,

designed, approved, funded and made real

with the explicit motive to exclude and harass.

It reveals how corporate hygiene has overridden human considerations, especially in retail districts. It is a symptom of the clash of private and public, of necessity and property.

Pavement sprinklers have been installed by buildings, including at this San Francisco church. They spray the homeless intermittently, soaking them and their possessions.

The assertion is clear: the public thoroughfare in front of a building belongs to the building’s occupant, even when it is not being used.

Part 4 -

Sculptor Fabian Brunsing brought a satirical eye to the issue by creating the “pay bench”, an art installation of a park bench that retracts its metal spikes for a limited time when the prospective sitter feeds it a coin.