Design Out of Reach: The Best Way to Shoo Homeless People Away

By | Jun 23, 2014

Photo: Andrew Horton/Twitter

When I was studying architecture, the design projects we were assigned typically involved creating spaces or products that benefited people. In our intensive workshops, we designed imaginary public spaces, furniture made out of recycled goods, and housing for the poor built from local materials.

Just walk into any Design Within Reach store to experience modern, people-friendly residential products created by top designers. For the budding designers among us, having one’s designs showcased in such a store is the epitome of success.

Imagine, however, if the school had a class on how to design public spaces that would drive homeless people away. Although such classes might seem bizarre, such design is actually occurring.

In London, metal spikes have been placed in the ground in front of an apartment building so people, (i.e., homeless people), cannot sleep there. They’re called “homeless spikes.” In Montreal, similar spikes were installed outside of a bookstore.

Many public spaces have benches with armrests for each individual seat. Although they may appear to be designed for comfort, in reality they are designed so that people, (i.e., homeless people), cannot lie down and sleep on them.

In Japan, some public benches are actually designed to be uncomfortable. Yes, uncomfortable. That way, no one will want to sit or sleep on them for long periods of time. I can only imagine an architecture class that specifically teaches its students how to shoo away people who are homeless.

You may have heard of smart houses, where lights, air conditioning, stereos, and even coffee machines are controlled by smart phones. So, how about “smart public spaces” where homeless people are driven away by new technology?

Metal spikes are integrated into concrete sidewalks and plazas, so if people lie down on them the spikes automatically pop out. Public seating is designed to knock people off if they lie down for longer than 15 minutes. Sensors are installed so that, if someone lies down, blinding lights and alarms go off to wake them up. And sprinklers water the plants as well as the sidewalks if people are sitting or sleeping far too long.

Sounds like a perfect curriculum for the budding designers of public spaces. Maybe such ideas could be part of the technology for smart houses as well!

Of course, it would be easier to simply design enough affordable housing so that people do not have to sleep in public spaces at all.

Now that would be the ultimate “smart house” approach.