Island Health plans new, "healthier" hostile design

Outside Island Health’s doors at 1250 Quadra Street, rocks are cemented in place. A “Private Property” sign, which threatens arrest for anyone who lingers, has been placed above the rocks.

 Rocks and "Private Property" sign at 1250 Quadra.

Rocks and "Private Property" sign at 1250 Quadra.

Island Health says its values include “Courage: To do the right thing”; “Respect: To value each individual”; and “Empathy: To give the kind of care we would want for our loved ones.” In April, I wrote to Island Health to suggest that the rocks and sign, which are intended to keep people from sitting or sleeping there, didn’t quite fit with those stated values.

To their credit, Island Health wrote back in May, and they were on board:

Island Health agrees the rock feature and the signage at the front entrance does not meet Island Health’s values.
— Island Health, 11 May 2018

They said that they only lease the space, but they talked to their landlord. The rocks had been there for over 30 years, but the landlord was willing to remove them. Hey, that’s great. One less piece of hostile— sorry, what’s that?

The landlord is willing to replace the rocks with, for example, additional bike racks, at Island Health’s expense.
— Island Health, 11 May 2018

Out with the hostile rocks, in with the hostile racks. A new bike rack would still keep people from sleeping there, while letting passersby think that Island Health is a healthy, fun, bike-loving employer. There are numerous examples of this type of hidden hostile design in Victoria (raised lighting boxes in alcoves, centre arm rests on benches, etc.) which serve the same function as the rocks at 1250 Quadra.

I pointed out the issue with the proposed solution, and sent Island Health a link to a recent story about bike racks that were installed in Seattle to keep people from sleeping under a viaduct, only to be removed after public criticism.

 Bike racks installed (and later removed) under a Seattle viaduct to keep people from sheltering. Image source:  Jeff Few; The Stranger

Bike racks installed (and later removed) under a Seattle viaduct to keep people from sheltering. Image source: Jeff Few; The Stranger

Trying to pass off hostile design as bike-friendly infrastructure isn’t new to Victoria. The concept designs for the development at Douglas and Pandora included benches with bike racks that would keep people from sleeping on them:

 “A Bench / Bike Rack” proposal for the Douglas and Pandora development. Image source: Submission to Victoria Council.

“A Bench / Bike Rack” proposal for the Douglas and Pandora development. Image source: Submission to Victoria Council.

I understand that Island Health may be slightly constrained by its relationship with its landlord, but I said they might want to try again, because simply removing the rocks would avoid replicating the harms through their new hostile bike rack. No dice, according to a final response in June:

I recognize your concern with what has been proposed. However, we believe that the installation of additional bike racks increases opportunities for active transportation in Victoria.  This is an objective of both the City of Victoria and Island Health as the evidence is clear that supporting active transportation options leads to healthier, more robust communities and can contribute to a reduced demand on health-system services.
— Island Health, 11 June 2018

Island Health agreed back in May that hostile design didn’t meet with their stated values. Now they are resting on their interest in “active transportation” to justify new hostile design, installed at their expense, which will lead to “healthier, more robust communities.” As a communications and branding exercise, it’s clever. It’s also hypocritical and gross, and will continue to associate Island Health with displacement.

Stephen Harrison