The City that Never Sleeps

Discussing hostile architecture as a response to street homelessness in Bristol.

The City The Never Sleeps – Hostile Architecture in Bristol

Reading time: 5 minutes

By Bea Swallow

Photography by George Etheredge

Hostile architecture is a controversial method of urban design, specifically implemented to prevent perceived unwanted or intimidating behaviour in public spaces, such as loitering, conducting illegal activity, or rough sleeping. Installations are subtle and can even go unnoticed, in the form of sloped or circular seating, or dividing up public benches with convenient metal arm rests, making it impossible to lay flat or settle down for the night. These methods might also be unapologetically aggressive, lining ledges with piercing spikes or placing concrete slabs up against buildings to prevent anyone sourcing warmth from their vents. Despite their alleged advantages of reducing anti-social behaviour, these inhumane measures create a hostile environment for people sleeping rough. It becomes impossible for people to feel safe or welcome in their own city, and by callously forcing individuals away from public spaces in an attempt to ‘maintain social order’, it perpetuates a harmful stigma that people experiencing homelessness are blemishes on the face of our society and must be kept out of sight. If the true purpose of this architecture is to create a safer environment for everyone, shouldn’t this also include people sleeping rough, as fundamental members of our society?

We collaborated with Noah Ferris, an MA student at UWE studying Urban Planning, regarding his academic research into hostile architecture and its impact on areas around Bristol, specifically in the Bearpit, Broadmead shopping centre and Castle Park. Noah told us he believes: ‘Hostile architecture has a huge impact on the way people socialise, as well as the overall atmosphere created when using a space. The presence of metal spikes or serrated fencing implies sinister motives, and the unfriendly environment created by these measures only leads to an increase of drug use in the spaces.’ Despite these measures being implemented to deter people from sleeping rough on certain premises, street homelessness represents just 5% of the homeless population in Bristol, with the majority living in temporary accommodation, therefore money spent on installing hostile architecture is in response to a visual ‘symptom’ of homelessness, not treating the cause itself. This exile of people at risk of homelessness reinforces the idea that nothing can be done to help, which is certainly not the case.

The removal of unnecessary installations from city spaces would help to reduce antagonistic attitudes towards people living on the streets, and tackle public misconceptions about how they ended up there. To perpetuate systemic exclusion in the form of hostile architecture is to aid in the perception that homelessness is the inevitable and warranted result of illegal or reckless behaviour, when often it is triggered by systemic factors like childhood trauma or low employment rates. They are simply people knocked to their feet who haven’t been given a chance to get back up again. In his academic investigation, Noah Ferris determined that the best chance of ending homelessness in Bristol is to see an increase in affordable housing, thereby throwing a raft to those struggling to stay afloat and easing the pressure off non-profit charities to support those in need.

We must banish hostile architecture, as an archaic defensive strategy that affects not only everyone living in Bristol, but disproportionately the homeless. Its objective of creating a safer, more appealing environment only benefits the privileged and is therefore deemed the best approach, but it has an undeniably detrimental effect on the already marginalised population of people sleeping rough. It is cruel to force individuals away without offering them anywhere else to go. Through recognising and addressing these seemingly innocent, everyday discriminations faced by people sleeping rough, we can rally together as a community to create a city empowered to solve homelessness.

We are very proud to have collaborated with Noah on his academic piece regarding hostile architecture, and hope his analytical approach will offer insight into the everyday struggles of people experiencing homelessness in Bristol.

Have you spotted many examples of hostile architecture around Bristol?

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