These anti-homeless spikes are brutal. We need to get rid of them
Written by Leah Borromeo / 23rd July 2015 / The Guardian
The city – yours, ours, everybody’s – is filled with space, yet most people don’t stop to think just how much of that space is designed to control them. Some of it, like traffic lights, one-way signs and most road signs, serves a positive purpose. Lighting directs people to main streets and places where you can buy things. Steel barriers keep you from running onto the main road and control routes of traffic. Not saying that’s a bad thing, that’s just how it is.
Outdoor furniture determines whether you are invited to rest anywhere, and how you rest. Angled perches at bus stops discourage hanging out there too long. Metal spikes on ledges and doorways scream “do not sit”, “do not stand”, “go away”.
From benches you can’t actually sit on, to railings that look like the inside of iron maidens, to metal spikes that resemble rows of buttplugs, there’s a phrase for these structures – “defensive architecture”. The first word precludes some form of attack. The second refers to structures and the environment. But there is nothing defensive about structures like this. Laying these metal studs outside a property sends out a message, and it’s a downright aggressive and unfriendly one. “Sod off.”
Defensive architecture says that people, regardless of whether they have homes or not, are not welcome. Putting spikes up like this doesn’t address the issues of inequality and poverty – it just pushes them away from your immediate vision so that you don’t have to look at them.
The spikes on ledges are placed to deter “errant” sitting. The ones on doorways are to deter errant standing or sleeping. So what if it’s raining? It’s your fault for not bringing a brolly. So what if you can’t walk far and your bags are heavy? It’s your fault for not being able to afford a cab. So what if you can’t afford a bed for the night? It’s your fault for being homeless. The urban landscape has turned into a victim-blaming battleground for the haves and the have-nots.
So we decided to do something to neutralise it. We laid a mattress and a bookshelf stocked with tomes on the housing crisis, inequality, gentrification, place-hacking and poverty atop some particularly vicious spikes on London’s Curtain Road. In the 1990s, it was the epicentre of a burgeoning artistic community that would eventually emerge as tastemakers in the visual and performing arts. We’re all aware that an artistic scene that gains any sort of appeal or traction is eventually leeched on, Death-Eater-like, by “property developers”. We saw these spikes as a direct assault on everything that makes us human. Anyone, for any reason, could end up on the streets with no home, no friends, no support. Sometimes you feel so unsafe where you are that sleeping on a ledge in east London comes across as the better option.
If some developers had their way, they’d commodify oxygen. To stop us having a society where it is acceptable to do that, we’ve decided to help out the best way we know how. As artists, journalists, academics, graduates and performers, we’re cultural producers. And with that comes the responsibility that what we make and share with the world highlights injustice and offers alternatives.
This will happen again. We’ve touched a nerve, and are planning more and better things until we can not only enter into dialogues with the people who allow these spikes on properties, but get them to stop putting them there to begin with. We’d like to work with rough sleepers, local councils and developers to design a friendlier, more inclusive space where misfortunes of circumstance such as homelessness aren’t banned.
The only good thing about living in austerity Britain is that through pushing us into a corner, the government and the money that controls it is unwittingly training up a generation of fighters. Some of us will kick and scream. Others will be by the ringside healing the wounded. And the rest? We’ll be coming up with new ways of undermining the violence raining down on us from above. We’ll be digging the tunnels and laying the path for a better and ultra-civil society where there won’t be a deserving or undeserving divide … just people, a planet and the mutual care of both
Originally published by The Guardian