Solving the plague of homelessness requires significant investment from the government. Most countries that face the highest rates of homelessness are also the poorest and cannot invest in infrastructure and development to solve the problems that homelessness presents. Therefore, in recent times, many countries have opted plans to reduce the presence of homeless people in public spaces, including hostile architecture.
Hostile architecture, also known as exclusionary design or defensive urban design is an intentional design strategy that uses elements of the built environment and public infrastructure to guide or restrict behaviour in urban spaces as a form of crime prevention or order maintenance. It often targets people who use or rely on public space more than others, like people who are homeless and the youth, by restricting the behaviours they engage in and their access to public spaces altogether. Even though ‘hostile architecture’ is a relatively recent term, the use of civil engineering to achieve social engineering and influencing the marginalized populations’ behaviour dates back to the 19th century.
Multiple strategies have formed a part of hostile architecture. Studs and spikes are often embedded in flat services to prevent the homeless from sleeping in those areas. Sloped window sills and benches with armrests are also used to achieve the same end. Due to criticism, governments often use excuses to install these systems. For example, the Department of Transportation in Seattle installed bicycle racks to prevent homeless people from camping despite the usage of bicycles being very rare in Seattle.
The reduction of crime is also an excuse used by state authorities to justify these designs. However, crime is closely interlinked with homelessness which is why it is extremely important to solve the latter problem to solve the first.
Reduction of access of homeless people to public spaces neither reduces homelessness nor crime. Hostile architecture is, therefore, a means through which government authorities shirk off their burden of dealing with the systemic problem of homelessness.