If you live in a city, you know the problems that vagrants can cause. The stink of stale urine. Trash, broken glass, and and other detritus littering the area. Graffiti-covered surfaces, noise, and general disorder all adding up to a desire to get out of there as soon as possible.
On the one hand, hardly anyone wants to make things even more difficult for people who already have problems dealing with the challenges of life. On the other hand, there is the issue of their making places unlivable for everyone else. When I lived in D.C., derelicts urinating in the stacks of the District’s Martin Luther King library were an ongoing problem, as was being driven away from reading areas by the unwashed stench of sleeping homeless. And only recently a friend of mine entering a D.C. Metro station surprised a homeless guy in the act of defecation when her elevator door opened.
To most people it probably seems that taking steps to prevent or limit such assaults on civilized society, and the damage they cause, is a rational thing to do. One might argue over effectiveness versus cost, or whether certain measures are humane. But the idea that we, as a society, have the right to set certain standards of behavior and protect property from vandalism would seem to be be pretty reasonable. Unless, that is, you’re R.J. Wilson, writing on a hipster website called URBO:
Hostile Architecture: How Cities Are Designed To Control Your Behavior
The title reveals Wilson’s prejudice on the issue. It refers to items such as park benches designed to discourage sleeping on them, studs on flat surfaces that discourage loitering, etc. In fact, the author is so prejudiced that he (or she) allows his bias to get in the way of good semantics. The items he refers to aren’t meant to control my behavior or yours. Their point is to prevent certain activities, activities most of us aren’t interested in carrying out anyway. And, of course, they aren’t really hostile at all; they’re defensive, and passively so. Their existence is an unfortunate fact of today’s urban living, resulting from the anti-social actions of a few. In a more civilized society, park benches wouldn’t need to be designed to be too uncomfortable to sit on for long periods. The fact that they must makes all our lives a little less civilized.
As if to emphasize the author’s complete lack of a rational perspective, he (or she) manages to drag in a completely irrelevant reference to antebellum slavery. But it’s not as if communities and property owners have no good reason to try to discourage vagrants, winos, and drug addicts.
I got some firsthand experience of the problems “hostile architecture” attempts to address when I lived in a scruffy Washington, D.C. neighborhood. I often had to oust winos from the alley behind my place. It’s not that I wanted to make life hard for them. It’s just that they would urinate all over the place, leave broken bottles in the alley, get into fights, make a lot of noise, intimidate residents, and generally contribute to an atmosphere of chaos and decrepitude. I also had a lot of bicycle tires ruined as a result of broken glass in the alley — especially at night — and finally had to resort to picking up the bike and carrying it to my back door.
One time I found a couple of winos cracking open a new bottle purchased from the convenience store on the corner. I told them, “Hey, guys, why don’t you move on and find another place to do that.”
The winos were apparently unused to being challenged, and incensed by my audacity. They shrieked, “We got as much right to be here as anyone!” and called me names.
I said to them, “Move along.” When they ignored me I said more forcefully, “I said, MOVE ALONG!”
One of them said to the other, “C’mon, man. That’s the po-leece talkin’!” and they left. But soon enough their places were taken by others.
The disorder promoted by the winos and junkies in the neighborhood had far-reaching effects. Every morning on my way to the Metro station I would pass at least one car with a window broken out and its interior ransacked. Anything of value that wasn’t bolted down or locked up would disappear in an instant if you took your eyes off it. Burglars ran rampant. And the disorder in common spaces caused people to withdraw from them, and from each other. The people who shared the alley hardly spoke to each other, each keeping to his own building as if it were a fortress. Nobody bothered to maintain the area, which continually stank of urine. Weeds grew in the pavement cracks, dirt and trash accumulated, and someone abandoned an old car behind a vacant house, which neither the house’s owner nor the famously efficient D.C. municipal government somehow ever got around to taking away for an entire year.
The car soon became an overnight shelter for some junkies, who greatly added to the chaos, defecating in the open and scattering used needles around for children to pick up. For a while I would roust them from the car. But then they got used to me and learned to lock the doors, while I got no help from the neighbors — some of whom looked on my efforts as being unfair to the poor junkies.
So the problems of having “homeless” people around aren’t just that they aren’t pleasant to look at, or that they offend some people’s sensibilities, as the author of the article seems to believe. It’s that they do great harm, not only to property, but to communities as a whole. There’s no easy, humane solution, but trying to stop attempts to discourage them from damaging civilized life is simply insane.
The thing is, such insanity is utterly consistent with the modern radical Left’s agenda, which seeks to tear down the structures and institutions of civilized society, using such proxies as uneducated illegal immigrants and uncivilized “homeless” people to do the dirty work. Giving free rein to an underclass that destroys order and civility is, for them, a feature, not a bug.