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As LA's homeless crisis persists, should 'hostile urbanism' be reexamined?




Photo by Mike/eyesplash via Flickr Creative Commons

The Vermont triangle is a street median that doubles as a mini park at the intersection of Vermont Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard in Los Feliz. Since being redesigned to create a gateway to the area's shopping district, it's been over run with homeless. Now city officials are proposing that  planters be added to the triangle in an effort to deter homeless people from sleeping there and pitching tents. Urban designer Amber Hawkes, with Here L.A., explains:

What is hostile architecture?

It's any time something in the urban realm is designed to be unfriendly to humans, so spikes, railings on a bench so you can’t lie down, designing a really wide roadway that’s unpleasant to walk next to. A lot of people think of it as deterring a certain population from being in a place that designers or business owners don’t want them to be.

How hostile design is used in L.A.

In L.A., we’ve prioritized the vehicle in the design of our city around vehicles, so a lot of our hostile urbanism is surrounding areas where we are grappling with ways we prioritize the vehicle through design: freeway underpasses, residual median spaces between roadways. Any leftover space that a human doesn’t feel comfortable to inhabit.

Hostile designs are often used to deter homeless

I remember one from a couple years ago along Beaudry. It was a chain link fence, almost a cage around the sidewalk. It was not installed by the city, but it was indicative of how we as a community are grappling with the issue of homelessness in our city. There was a long homeless encampment along Beaudry and the fence was installed apparently to move folks along. A lot of places we see large planters being put in to not give them enough room to set up a tent.

Putting planters in the Vermont triangle 

A lot of solutions that are hostile in nature look at enclosure — closing in, closing off, restricting. Restricting access for one particular population makes it unfriendly for everyone to be in that space. At the same time, these issues are pervasive. Business owners are grappling with issues like safety, so there is no small solution here.

City agencies, business owners and homeowners all use hostile architecture

You’ll see guerrilla techniques of people trying to deal with the issue right in front of their business or home. You'll see city agencies using these techniques. Designers. Pretty much everybody. It’s hard to encourage people not to use them when money, resources, the mentality isn’t there to acknowledge that we can’t cut corners in this way when it comes to designing solutions.

Will there be more hostile architecture as homelessness worsens?

I’m an optimist, so I think we’re moving in the right direction. I think we’ve realized we cannot design cities in the way we have before. You see that in mayor’s Great Streets initiative. A lot of designers are not doing design as usual. These forms are more patch-up jobs than long-term solutions. We want to see positive urbanism. We want to see people using our space and these things do just the opposite.