Hostile bench seeks loving and supportive wrench

One of the first posts I wrote for this site was about the city’s hostile benches, where "arm rests" are welded or bolted on to stop people from lying down. We’ve got a lot of them, and they’re all gross. But they don't have to be.

These types of benches, writes Alex Andreou, are the result of “a sort of unkindness that is considered, designed, approved, funded and made real with the explicit motive to exclude and harass.” Hostile benches were in the news the other week when an artist led a campaign against them in Bournemouth, U.K.

 Bench in Bournemouth, U.K. Image Source: Stuart Semple, via the  BBC .

Bench in Bournemouth, U.K. Image Source: Stuart Semple, via the BBC.

During the height of the Bournemouth campaign, someone named Professor Green released a video where they took off one of these metal bars and replaced it with a big loop that people could put a tarp over. I figured Professor Green was an academic, but it turns out he’s a rap artist who may or may not be an actual professor.

After extensive public shaming — sorry, “feedback from the public and on social media” —Bournemouth Council agreed to remove the metal bars.

All of Victoria’s hateful architecture should embarrass the people who are responsible for its continued existence. Public outrage has gotten results in London, England, where the mayor chimed in to call some spikes “ugly … & stupid,” and it worked in Montreal, where the mayor said a similar installation was “a disgrace” to the city. Both examples were promptly removed.

Like Bournemouth Council, Victoria’s elected officials are directly responsible for creating and encouraging hostile design. These benches, for example, are in a city park:

 Benches in Pioneer Square use centre "arm rests" to keep people from lying down.

Benches in Pioneer Square use centre "arm rests" to keep people from lying down.

Pioneer Square used to have wooden benches without centre “arm rests,” but they were replaced in 2014 when the park was being redesigned. As part of that redesign, the City looked at “social issues such as homelessness [and] poverty” in the park. Amongst other changes, the review culminated in the city purchasing benches to keep people from sleeping there, which they called “new stylized furnishings that better reflect the park’s history.” Re-designing a park called “Pioneer Square” to displace even more people is a pretty apt reflection of the area’s history, so points for consistency, I guess.

Somebody with the City thought all of this through. They thought about “social issues such as homelessness [and] poverty” in the park, and then they asked for a design to limit people’s options for sleeping there. And then they bought these benches, and these “arm rests” — which are designed not for arms, but as barriers — and they had them both installed, along with signs that say the park is “closed to the public” at night. The “arm rests” are fixed in place, with the screws bent at a 90-degree angle to keep them from wandering off.

The City could repair these benches as quickly as it ruined them, on a sunny afternoon with a handful of tools and a song in their heart. These benches across the street could be fixed even faster:

Other benches have their hateful designs welded in place. Perhaps those ones can’t be fixed quite as quickly as the ones above, but either way, there’s no excuse for this brand of cruelty to carry on.

Stephen Harrison