‘Hostile Architecture’: How Public Spaces Keep the Public Out

Hostile design has flourished in New York as a way to maintain order and ensure public safety. But critics say it is inhumane and targets the homeless.

Comments: 153

  1. The liveliness of the streets and public spaces in Manhattan is noticeably dwindling. Missing benches combined with steel and glass, and empty store fronts peppered with Duane Reeds, it’s a shame. There is only 1 New York.

  2. @MichelleM Actually, Duane Reades can't afford to be here anymore either. It's contracting rather quickly -- try wrapping your head around that.

  3. @MichelleM What's a Duane Reed?

  4. The author didn't emphasize enough how skateboarding ruins outdoor furniture, steps, railing, etc., and is a danger to non-skateboarders. Also, bollards must (unfortunately) exist to keep vehicles away from people and buildings.

  5. @Reader and I am sure the designers of the glass canopies of the Second Avenue subway didn’t envision them being used as a skateboard ramp. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw someone do this on 94th Street. The skateboarder’s friends were holding up traffic and filming his ridiculous stunt. I can tell you he did not stick the landing.

  6. There is a lot of space between creating hostile spaces and managers of public realm spaces trying to create a space, available to all, that is maintained and populated with benches, tables and chairs and other amenities not being ruined by anti social behaviors. Individuals that take up residence in our public spaces can create a situation wherein the space is generally unappealing to their fellow New Yorkers. People living on the streets need help. They need a place to live that is safe and supportive. But taking over public spaces intended for all and making them unappealing to others is not okay. If we have a homeless problem, solve the homeless problem. If we have a problem with chemically dependent people living on the streets, provide a safe haven for them. The public spaces that have been created over the last ten years have improved neighborhoods, traffic islands and other pockets in NYC immeasurable, but if they cannot be maintained because of a population that we seem incapable as a society of helping they will cease to be used by the general population. Our city, state and federal officials must turn their attention to supportive housing and helping the mentally ill and chemically dependent so that our public spaces, which they as well are free to use as well...just not live in...do not become a failed initiative. Barbara

  7. This is not about keeping the "public" from using public spaces. It is about one very small (thankfully) element of the public that chooses a lifestyle the prevents the large majority of the public from enjoying public spaces. Erecting tents on sidewalks or parks in West Coast cities is not acceptable. Even when shelter is offered, (see Oakland as the latest example) it is rejected. Most homeless people have mental, drug and alcohol problems that need to be addressed! That is societies failure, not architectures!

  8. Disallowing places for people to sit and rest, or just relax is, I agree, unfortunate. However, I have absolutely no problem with the little so called "ugly bolts" that are meant to dissuade skateboarders. How long do you think the wooden bench would last in the second photo if those "bolts" were not there? It would be worn and marred in no time. And the "bolts" hardly impede sitting. And of course, there is the "hostile architecture" that keeps the homeless (or "unhoused") from setting up camps. I don't mean to be hard-hearted, but where I live, tents are being set up virtually anywhere there is a semi-flat bit of space. It's truly a problem. Though, I guess we should be grateful camps are set up in the open rather than deep in the woods where the debris will likely never be cleaned out...

  9. When I looked at the photos I did not see an attempt to push out the homeless, I saw an attempt to protect property from skateboarders. Outdoor landscaping now has to take into account the destructive habits of these individuals.

  10. Hostile architecture is a detriment to everyone. It imbues our spaces with the message to "get away" and is part of the ever-growing privatization and corporatization of our world. Public spaces are a necessary and important part of a functioning democracy and, even more basically, a functioning society. People need places to meet, gather, discuss, and be in the company of other people; that's how community is built and ideas are fostered. Additionally, why do we keep those so desperate for sleep that they would seek out a park bench from sleeping except to be cruel? Sleep deprivation is used as torture. Why not, as the song goes, put a little love in our hearts, let kindness be our guide, and let those most weary among us rest?

  11. Skateboarders turn corporatized urban wastelands and rotting industrial zones into places creative theater. Is a bank’s right to have an unblemished granite ledge is more important than an expression of vibrant street culture?

  12. @S Yes, it is, if it’s their property. The same applies to you if you choose to take action to stop people from being on or defacing your property, car, etc. Calling it “vibrant street culture” does not change the legal or ethical fact that no one else can come along and destroy or damage something you have legal title too.

  13. @S I agree with the spirit of what you say, but skateboarders will absolutely tear up the granite, stainless steel, etc. resulting in a sort of time-worn look. Man as animal marking territory; having fun. The noise is disruptive. No.

  14. @S and is a skateboarder's "expression of vibrant street culture" more important than the general public's (as pedestrians and passers-by) right to not have to dodge a careening skateboarder?

  15. As a public property manager in a major US city, I see the problem with this architecture but I also have a lot of sympathy for the people whose job it is to protect public space. "Hostile architecture" is maligned for preventing people from using public space but consider that it's also facilitating a net positive use for the most number of people. Do armrests prevent someone from sleeping on a bench? Yes. But they also allow 2 more people to sit on that bench who otherwise could not were someone laying across it. People experiencing homelessness need help, obviously. But no one, homeless or otherwise, has the right to detract from someone else's reasonable enjoyment of public space. Architecture that discourages disrespectful behavior such as littering, drug use, or public defecation is there to protect a common resource for maximum public enjoyment.

  16. @JGF Hostile architecture assumes everyone has the same concept of unwanted behavior, which isn't true. I don't find it offensive when someone (homeless or housed) needing rest sleeps on a bench. Who is to say that laying down on a bench isn't "reasonable enjoyment"? Public space also isn't really something to be protected, perhaps managed would be a more accurate term to use. The public is made up of many types of people and protected implies that there are some who must be kept out, but historically when we try to keep people out it's usually based on biases and stereotypes that are unfair and hurtful.

  17. @JGF Thank you. As an older person, I think it is important to see other sides of this issue. I look for places in public spaces to sit and rest a bit while out walking every day. The little metal tabs to prevent skateboarding may limit an aspect of street life, but they also provide spots where seniors can sit. Likewise, benches with arm rests provide stable sources for helping seniors to get up and down. Hostility toward all forms of architectural solutions to urban issues does not help. A balanced approach to provide respectful behavior and encourage enjoyment of common resources is necessary. We have social problems that absolutely need solutions, but encouraging social behaviors that detract from others ability to enjoy public spaces is not the solution. My worst case scenario is a park in my neighborhood I dreamed about visiting several time a week when I retired. But today it is dominated by a homeless encampment, with no benches upon which to sit and enjoy the lawns, flowers and trees of its open spaces. I never use the park because I don't feel safe. I'd much prefer -- and would gladly pay -- higher taxes for real solutions for the homeless and my ability to enjoy the park.

  18. @JGF do tell how any hostile architecture is going to "discourage" public defecation? Those that do it are often mentally ill and/or homeless... anywhere a person can stand, they can squat, and where they can squat, they can 💩. Anything that might *actually* discourage it will also discourage legitimate use of the area.

  19. In a crowded city, we need wisdom to go with compassion for the vulnerable to sort out how we use shared spaces. There are no simple answers. My view is that space for sitting and “loitering” are appropriate for crowded plazas and parks. Barriers to skateboarding in places not designed or intended for it seem like a common sense measure. Facilities for (safer) skateboarding should be considered for parks but based on community interests in relation to needs for other active recreational space like playgrounds, bball courts and other needs. Plazas and transit platforms are not humane places to care for the homeless nor are they alternatives to more supportive housing, substance abuse and mental health treatment facilities shared and supported among all communities.

  20. “... critics who say that such measures are unnecessary and disproportionately target vulnerable populations.” Once again, the “know better” advocate crowd seeks to tell the majority of their fellow citizens how to live their lives. Just think like we do, and all will be well, the sentiment goes. Sorry, but when it’s your property (that includes business property) being damaged by skateboarders or taggers (sorry, if it’s not yours and you don’t have the owner’s permission it’s vandalism not art, however well done) you likely won’t be so benign. Enough too with the broad lumping of everyone into the “vulnerable populations” category. Yes, many homeless or addicts are in dire straits and need our sympathy and help, through better programs, shelters, etc.; but that does not mean all public spaces need to be be ceded. Skateboarders, taggers, etc. are not vulnerable, just people who feel their desires outrank the wishes of others.

  21. @George S Actually, a lot of those 'vulnerable' people choose the homeless lifestyle. Some are actually making a good living at pan handling as well. It shocks me that the NYTimes would value the minority that ruin public spaces over the majority that should be able to use them. But I guess that's the far left messaging today. Not working too well in CA; hope NYC doesn't become a city of poop and needles on the streets. This 'hostile architecture' is a good start at protecting the majority. To call it hostile is an insult to law abiding, productive citizens. And NYC can really use those citizens right now.

  22. Hostile Architecture. Thank you so much for finally putting words to what I've been feeling around NYC for the past 20 years (maybe longer). Architecture that says you can walk by and admire us (like a tourist) and you may find a nook to sit down and stay awhile (like those who use the city like their personal playground until they go home and get serious about their life and leave us to clean up after them), but don't look for a place to get comfortable and enjoy it because it's not for you. What happened to this City?

  23. In my opinion, these are first and foremost skate blockers. Nothing much deeper than that (except the long jagged bar along the ledge is a bit overkill). Full bias I am a skateboarder and wish every marble ledge was open and free, but I also think architects need to get more creative if they want to provide a place to sit while also preventing skateboarders. To me it’s not hard to think of ways to deter skaters while having seats available. Continue to build the same basic ledges and you’ll continue to have ugly skate blockers everywhere.

  24. Statements such as “We’re building barriers and walls around apartment buildings and public spaces to keep out the diversity of people and uses that comprise urban life,” are dishonest. These artifacts are aimed at "uses" only. A device which prevents sleeping or skateboarding doesn't prevent that same person from sitting, for example. It does not seem unreasonable to prevent public spaces from being taken over by activities that have the consequence of damaging the space for, or simply excluding, others. We'd not be happy seeing people building their own cabins in such spaces, would we? ...Andrew

  25. This makes me laugh. The person that wrote this must have never traveled abroad. Victorian London is filled with wrought iron fences designed to impale trespassers. In Asia and Africa, walls are often topped with broken glass embedded in the mortar. The stuff pictured here is pretty innocuous and the city deserves to have a say in how public spaces are used. A good architect would have made the tops of the walls with too much slope to lay on. If not a late add on, the standpipe might have had a been in a niche and not projecting to the sidewalk. Yes, the retrofits seem aggressive and off putting, but control of public spaces has been part of living for a long time.

  26. @Dan Mullendore i guess some of us are hoping we had moved on past "victorian" notions of what people are acceptable and who aren't. i've been aware of "hostile architecture" for at least the last 15 years (so glad to finally have a name for it). but it seems we are backsliding in our compassion outlook, and back to the acceptable folks (white, rich, capitalist) and who aren't (pretty much the rest of us who thought the streets and public spaces were for us).

  27. The homeless need homes--boy do they ever. But I remember being a poor graduate student in the 1980s when every public space which I needed to use to rest, to enjoy life a little, to LIVE in this city, was destroyed by the homelessness crisis. You couldn't sit in a park, on a bench, anywhere. It isn't being hostile to the homeless to prevent them from making public spaces unusable by working New Yorkers.

  28. If you tag something as "architecture" which is not under the control of architects, it becomes a misnomer. We architects do not decide when anti-skateboard devices are installed, that is an owner decision, along with other measures that are meant to protect often delicate and expensive materials. Also, homelessness was not created by architects. Look to your local AIA chapter (including AIA New York) for some of our professional responses to society's homelessness problem.

  29. "Don't make yourself at home." Precisely. No lying down and taking up three spots. No sitting on low walls and smoking and spitting, or eating your bag lunch and leaving the crumpled bag behind. Sounds okay.

  30. @B. I'm not clear how eating a bagged lunch is a problem -- or how these measures are going to prevent it. Littering is a problem, but one does not need to be sitting to litter. I see people litter all the time *while walking*. Instead of making surfaces uncomfortable to sit in, why not try the old-school solution of putting a garbage pail between benches?

  31. @Rose, The garbage pails in public places went away in the hysteria after 9/11 and have not returned.

  32. "Hostile architecture" is put in place to deter people, like skateboarders and the homeless, who are hostile to basic decency and civility. Will the author repair the ledges and benches when the skateboarders tear them up? Will the author clean up the trash and human waste that the homeless leave behind in alcoves? If not, then she's in no position to criticize, because she offers no solutions, just platitudes and a blind eye towards acts that ought to be criminal.

  33. @KM These things are all a cost of having public space open to the public. Not one of these buildings was required to provide these public spaces. They made a deal to get more rentable square feet. If they no longer wish to have the public spaces be available to the public, require them not to rent the additional square feet that they received for providing the public spaces.

  34. @KM well said!!

  35. I'd like to see more architecture that curbs obtrusive behavior in public spaces. It is currently impossible to find an inch of quietude in Washington Square Park b/c every corner is occupied by aspiring musicians banging, strumming & tooting, hoping a music exec will happen by with a recording contract. I am thankful, however, that boomboxes went the way of rotary dial phones.

  36. @Steve725 You're in the middle of noisy NYC where you can hardly hear yourself think, and you object to musicians? Music is one of the great things that make Washington Square Park the place it is. Tradition. Life. Joy. Expression. Individuality. Enjoy them!

  37. I understand these measures I also understand the need to help the homeless, but as an advocate for those with mental illness, I have met a lot of families whose loved one prefer to live on the streets. It’s a quandary It reminds me of the spikes on a roof trying to keep pigeons away

  38. @Denise It's not a quandary. Living on the street is not a lifestyle choice, it's proof of mental illness and/or addiction. Even if it were a rational idea, we all don't get to just do what we "prefer".

  39. Its nice to know that someone else notices these subtle ways the rich keep out the poor in NYC. Now if only the city would take some action!

  40. You know what's genuinely hostile? The creeps who litter the streets and annoy you for money so they can drug and drink, I almost always see a liquor bottle, and then sleep it off on benches, low-slung walls, the boulders on 32d Street, the subways, on grates, in parks, and a host of other places. They are creative. If it wasn't for these people there would be benches and seats in subway stations, in the LIRR section of Penn Station, on sidewalks and many other places. The other day I was walking down 7th Avenue when I was accosted by a beggar with a cardboard sign who had parked himself with his tattoos, cell phone and $15 a pack cigarettes opposite a storefront. In the window of the storefront was a sign, "help wanted". I pointed that out to the vagabond and he laughed at me. It's time to offer these people some help. Get them de-tox. Get them in shape to support themselves and/or rejoin their families. Clearly some will not get it and return to the streets but some will reform and that will have been the right thing to do.

  41. @MIKEinNYC Some may need to go to jail, vs. making the majority responsible for caring for them. The truth is many choose this lifestyle. Work with them and you will see - they believe they have the right to whatever space they like and the right not to work.

  42. If you're not going to enforce the laws against vagrancy, public urination, begging, sleeping on sidewalks and in parks, public drug use, public drinking, and so on, you have to expect people to do what they can to defend their little corners of public space.

  43. The author is reaching for something here that she's not proven. Most of the images go to preventing skateboarders from destroying public amenities and keeping people from dangerous areas, like the top of a railing. The rest of the discussion is fluff and generalities.

  44. Back in 1973, I was walking along the Thames Embankment and came across benches. Nearby was a sign warning that these were not to be occupied by "verminous men."

  45. Most of the devices shown are designed, marketed and used to discourage skateboarding in theses locations. Skewers love to ride handrails and bench-height curbs. They are a nuisance and damage property.

  46. This is funny because this was not meant to deter the homeless at all. It was meant to stop skaters.

  47. @dude It's probably not funny if you're homeless. Or if you're not able to stand or walk for long periods of times and relied on places to sit down to enable you to enjoy time outside and a walk with frequent breaks. It's probably also not funny if you're visually-impaired and accidentally grab a spiked railing. Or if your kid accidentally runs a hand across it (as young kids are wont to do with a railing).

  48. The 'hostile architecture' in NY is the damn scaffolding that is taking over the city like kudzu. Beautiful buildings are now wrapped in ugly filthy silver pipes everywhere. And it never goes away. Why? $$ of course.

  49. I see a lot of people complaining about worn out benches or granite, but in what universe are skateboarders going to hang out at midtown plaza? In any case, the city is absolutely more and more devoid of public, comfortable spaces every day. This is very much a modern problem, with public spaces of old, all around the world, providing ample space for people to sit, lay, and even "loiter"! Some people have very little compassion for certain people (young, old, disabled, homeless), who would only like a free space to rest or meet. This is especially important in areass already lacking public parks or other institutions. Examine why you do not like that some people have space to sit. I think our society's hostility to community and to the disenfranchised has permeated into our architecture, not the other way around.

  50. @Ms S in what universe? - you must not live in midtown. the plaza cited was a skateboard hangout at all hours of the day/afternoon/evening/late nights - riding on low walls, dropping off steps, cruising at speed on the sidewalk to get momentum, weaving around trees then crossing over the sidewalk to drop into the plaza ripping a stunt. total safety hazard to pedestrians.

  51. Apparently Winnie Hu believes that pigeons should be allowed to nest and defecate wherever they want. Also, that skateboarders should also be allowed to wear down and break stone and concrete building steps and other features. The sitting areas outside the Brooklyn Museum, and the public plaza outside the Brooklyn Borough Hall, recently installed protective devices so that skateboarders can't destroy them. I applaud these actions!

  52. They also keep skateboarders from wrecking stonework with their silly acrobatics and they keep pigeons from pooping all over the place. It not just about keeping the homeless from sleeping on walls. There are fundamental problems relating to homelessness that are not being addressed. Barriers along walls are not one of them.

  53. We have a public space next to our office that's often used by the homeless. A couple weeks ago someone built a campfire right next to the building using scavenged wood and cardboard. I don't want to make the life of the homeless more challenging, but I also can't allow people to be a threat to the safety of themselves and others, so I'm considering my options. I wish my options didn't have to include 'hostile architecture' but I also can't allow behavior that's a danger to everyone involved.

  54. If you actually live and work in a big, crowded city, you relish small comforts like seats at a bus stop or in a park. We all enjoy and are recharged by spending some time in bits of nature in our cities. The hostile architecture installed in more and more public places is elitist and authoritarian. It's un-American.

  55. The lack of seating in public spaces also keeps disabled and elderly people out. I have a chronic condition that prevents me from standing up for more than 10 minutes or so before I simply have to sit down. A bench or a low brick wall without spikes is a great relief to me, allowing me to enjoy the outdoors with everyone else. Recently I have noticed a dwindling of public seating, and I think it's a shame.

  56. Apparently we are needlessly offending the pigeons with pigeon spikes? Wow.

  57. @CVanDoren I think the author was joking.

  58. "Metal bars divide a public bench on East 47th Street." "Ugly bolts line the ledges at a public plaza on East 56th Street." Those are anti-skateboard cleats, and they are very common on benches and railings. Despite what the critics would have us believe, they do not prevent anyone from *sitting* on the benches. On railings they are more problematic because they make it unpleasant to slide one's hand along the railing. They do, however, deter people from sitting on railings and sliding down them. "Even today, metal and concrete barriers are strategically placed around public buildings and plazas in Lower Manhattan and elsewhere to deter stray vehicles and guard against possible terror attacks." The following photo shows "bollards", which have long been used to stop vehicles from driving in pedestrian areas. "Office workers had to lean against a wall for a quick break." That sounds like an evasion -- they were probably smoking. Why no photo of a smoker "lean[ing] against a wall"? "As evidenced by the spikes along the UPS logo at a store on East 34th Street, even the pigeons are not safe." That's a ridiculous complaint -- those "spikes" are not likely to injure birds.

  59. @LWY : So what's more important in a railing -- the ability of people who need it to use it? Or the ability to prevent people from sliding down the railing on their butt? If you think the latter is more important, please consider that these are dangerous for young children and the visually impaired. They also make the railing non-functional for those with mobility, balance or vision issues -- and these are the people who need the railings the most.

  60. Rose: "So what's more important in a railing -- the ability of people who need it to use it?" I was referring to *cleats* on railings, not spikes or teeth. Cleats do not prevent people from using the railing to support themselves. A DuckDuckGo images search for "anti-skateboard cleats railing" found several designs, although I believe they could still improved to make them more pleasant to hold onto.

  61. "Hostile Architecture" is newspeak, a dog whistle implying malign intent on the part of designers of public space. When you want to sit in the Luxembourg Gardens, you pay a few centimes for permission to do so. You enjoy serenity and beauty, and don't have to worry about someone defecating next to you or being run over by a skateboard. Try sitting in Columbus Circle.... The only solution, other than sharp metal teeth and bolts, is to have ample security personnel on site to keep public spaces enjoyable for everyone.

  62. @Elliot No, you don't have to pay to sit in the Luxembourg gardens, nor in any public park in Paris.

  63. No, not true. You can sit wherever you want for free in the Luxembourg Gardens. And there are hundreds of chairs that you can move around any way you want. It is tranquil and highly civilized and peaceably shared by all.

  64. The key phrase is "highly civilized." The French have a way of keeping beautiful spaces beautiful.

  65. "One especially ironic example can be found at a sprawling public plaza on East 56th Street and Third Avenue in Midtown Manhattan. Not a single table or chair was in sight (seating is not required at most privately owned public spaces created before 1975)." That's incoherent. Is that plaza public or private? And anti-skateboard cleats can be seen in Google Street View along one of the retaining walls. That should be evidence enough that there were problems with people abusing the plaza.

  66. @LWY, Reread the article. These spaces are on private property but public access is legally required under the terms of zoning variences granted to the owner. Typically the variences allow a building exceding zoned height and/or volume limits on the site in return for providing a public space meeting specfic size and other requirements.

  67. carol: "Reread the article." I quoted the part of the article that I am criticizing for incoherence. And what you said about "public access" and "zoning variences" is nowhere in that quote. Perhaps you could write your own comment explaining all that.

  68. @LWY Based only on the words, I have to assume that this particular plaza, because of the lack of seating, is a privately owned public space created before 1975. I'm having a lot of trouble with this 'hostility' thing. I like this particular plaza. I see it as a calming space between the street and the building entrance. Requiring that there be some open space like this prevents every single structure from being built hard up against the sidewalk. It's a nice thing, even if it doesn't have places to sit. But, apparently, these privately owned public spaces are supposed to be like the corner park--somewhere everyone can go, sit, eat lunch, chat, hang out. This plaza is certainly not that.

  69. Spikes are very dangerous for toddlers and the blind. They are dangerous for everyone, really, as in the normal act of navigating crowded streets, we all get pushed into objects. There is simply no place for metal spikes in New York City.

  70. We get this from the Brits. You see less of this on the Continent.

  71. "You see less of this on the Continent." The Place de la Concorde in Paris has a spiked fence around the obelisk. And Google Street View shows movable barriers on part of the plaza. Lastly, there are no benches in sight. Nor is there any flora. And the plaza at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin does not appear to have any benches or flora either (west side). There are, however, numerous bollards. On the east side there are benches along Pariser Platz, although there appear to be movable barriers blocking access to the benches along the north side. (Again, per Google Street View)

  72. It was all going well until the last sentence: "As evidenced by the spikes along the UPS logo at a store on East 34th Street, even the pigeons are not safe" If the author thinks that birds and people are deserving of the same rights, then she's going to be seen as out of touch.

  73. Please don't equate this with hostility. Anyone who has lived in NYC, as I did for years, will tell you that sitting outdoors isn't all that pleasant regardless of the design. Bird droppings, aggressive strangers, spilt mochacinos, scorching benches in summer and bottom-freezing marble in winter: these are urban facts of life. This article just feels silly.

  74. @Greg Jones : There are the natural reasons that it's unpleasant -- heat, cold, bird droppings, too many people. But the real question is this: Why make it worse?

  75. I hope Winnie Hu, author of this column, and those who selected/approved it for publication read these comments, which are 90% in favor of the things which the author deplores (and who is apparently and strangely ignorant of the purpose of devices intended to discourage skateboarding). Just check out the many public spaces in e.g. San Francisco and Denver (two recently noticed by me), now unavailable to most of the pubic and taken over by problem people. These are largely not the poor and downtrodden, but the problem people of modern cities, e.g. drug addicts (and their suppliers) and the mentally ill whom we should be taking care of elsewhere, but not in our public spaces, totally unsuited to this purpose.

  76. It's inhumane and completely unnecessary. There was a wonderful documentary on Nova?? that focused cameras on public spaces. What they found was that the homeless, aside from their appearance, were good citizens and cleaned up after themselves. If the public spaces are overcrowded with the homeless, then either do something to make them not homeless or build more public spaces.

  77. I'm sure Mayor Deblasio is right on top of it. With his useless campaigning in Iowa, sleeping in late, then going to the gym, I'm sure a solution is right around the corner with the 1 hour a month he puts in at city hall.

  78. Funny, there's never really a simple question in any of this. Why are there so many homeless people in New York? Answering those usually gets to the simple fact that our economic system is incredibly inefficient at meeting the needs of it's citizens. It's also incapable of being corrected, wealth keeps concentrating into the hands of fewer and fewer people while many many more go without basic necessities. The hostile architecture is a symptom of this problem. Much in the same way an illness may manifest itself through open lesions or sores, these unsightly bits of architecture throughout the city also are signs that our city/economy is sick.

  79. @Bo Given that most of the homeless are either severely mentally ill or disabled due to drug or alcohol abuse, I'd place the problem at the feet of government and the courts, who are collectively unable to bring themselves to coerce treatment -- Even when in NYC there are frequent sacrifices by the severely mentally ill to the Subway Gods. I don't remember ever seeing a homeless person until states began to close their mental hospitals.

  80. come on. bollards are not hostile to squatters, only to terrorist truck bombers. “The irony that some public spaces actively discourage public use should not be lost on anyone,” Mr. Kayden said. "the irony that laws designed to protect civil freedoms put some people in jail" should be used to harpoon the logical fallacy in that conceit. property owners that trusted in public pressure, social decorum and local authorities to prevent misuse, disrespect and damage to their properties have been disabused. the public is too timid or indifferent to mend the behavior of homeless, the homeless don't care what you think, and the local authorities can't be bothered. it's a classic truism in urban design that the infrastructure will evolve to fill the gaps left by human intervention. the infrastructure examples are not a hostile reaction to the homeless. they're a defensive response to a public that is disorderly and indifferent.

  81. @drollere YES - I was sad to have to put a fence across my stoop - it didn't bother me if people sat there and ate their lunch in the sun, it bothered me a lot when they left their trash (or thew it under the stairs) for me to clean up. (file under: why we can't have nice things)

  82. As a person who was a high fall risk in the past, before I got a life-changing operation due to Obamacare, the sharp spikes on railings and low walls bother me. When a disabled person, or an elderly person is falling, they grab onto anything handy to avoid hitting their heads on the cement sidewalk. It happens so fast that the faller flings arms out to grab anything to avoid a head injury. Lining what looks like handrails with spikes seems like it's going overboard and is dangerous.

  83. It's public space until you try to make it your home by adversely possessing it.

  84. I wish there were an explanation of what we were looking at in every photo. I'm particularly baffled by the photo of the black railing with spikes on it. What is the point of a railing if you can't hold it? This seems especially problematic for anyone with mobility or balance issues who could appreciate the opportunity to hold a railing for support.

  85. "I wish there were an explanation of what we were looking at in every photo." Good point. The photo of the black railing doesn't have ANY information -- there isn't even a caption. "I'm particularly baffled by the photo of the black railing with spikes on it. What is the point of a railing if you can't hold it?" That railing appears to be a signal that people should not step onto the grating that is visible in the photo. As for the spikes, they deter people from sitting on the railing. Without more information about the location, it is impossible to say whether that is still a realistic concern.

  86. I'm rather horrified by those sharp metal teeth on low walls and curb sides where any passing pedestrian, particularly the very young and the elderly, could fall and become impaled.

  87. @jim Impaled? Vlad approves!

  88. Hudson Yards is a perfect example: It is an ugly "Disneyland" tribute to NYC with cold towering buidlings for uber-wealthy and uninviting spaces for humans. What a contrast with the Hi-Line or the genius of Rockefeller Center!

  89. I personally see all of this -- both the "skatestoppers" and their anti-homeless brethren, "sleepstoppers" -- as emblematic of the dissolve of public life, public discourse, and any sort of shared experience (or identity) in American society. It's not just that the public spaces themselves are going away, but also our ability to find value in coexisting with, appreciating, and even tolerating one other. As the majority of our attention is now spent in so-called "public" online spaces, the algorithms of unfettered capitalism (and all of our perfectly tailored, personalized, and curated experiences) have further eroded our desire to simply be in the same spaces with others. As Craig Stecyk wrote in the 70's, "Skaters by their very nature are urban guerillas: they make everyday use of the useless artifacts of the technological burden, and employ the handiwork of the government/corporate structure in a thousand ways that the original architects could never dream of." God forbid if the homeless just need a place to sleep. Or we pencil-pushers just want to relax in a sliver of sunlight on our lunch breaks.

  90. Great points about a pervasive quality of life issue. There are many benefits to building new, hostile 'public' areas next to brand new high-rise buildings, like lifting height restrictions, decreasing property tax, improved security, and an overall more defensive posture. This is nothing new, the gates on some brownstones' staircases probably date back at least a century, and they're there for the same reason, hostility. Of course, those are actually private property, but with population density what it is, if there's a comfortable place to sit, someone's going to sit there eventually. But there are still some semi-public areas, without spikes all over them, where people don't wind up sleeping on benches often. And I think the main reasons are, frequent patrolling by neighbors and cops, keeping the area generally tidy, and creating a less hostile impression. If people are enjoying an area, they tend to keep it nicer on their own. I think the main problem with hostile architecture is that it generates hostile reactions. For example, I'm familiar with the bench-free plaza at 56th & 3rd, and I've sat on the edge of those glossy, too-thin walls. Not too comfortable, but it drew admiring looks from the office smokers, who were all leaning where they could. The design, by being so defensive, just provokes an angry response, due to human nature. I hope the city government starts to remedy this, maybe when we get a mayor again.

  91. Reminds me of many places in Italy where there was NO place to sit except a little restaurant with surly waiters and overpriced coffee and beer. The USA is generally not so bad but I'm seeing this trend here too.

  92. Although I agree compassion for the homeless is necessary, I dont want to walk through public spaces with my children where fleas and lice are jumping off their bodies onto my kids. I've noticed most all liberals just virtue signal, yet if homeless were camped out in front of their Brooklyn brownstones, they are the first to call the police. Instead of pointing out symptoms, like the spike rails, how about we address the underlying issue? Until then, property owners have a right to promote a safe and clean space for tourists, workers, and visitors. This is not about compassion for homeless. It's about public health and businesses and property have every right to enforce it. How about an article gets written on what Deblasio is actually doing. This mayor sleeps in every morning and shows up once a month at city hall.

  93. @Independent While I agree with the general sentiment you are trying to get across about the problems with reducing this issue to "compassion", the property owners do not have complete autonomy over these spaces under the law. As it reads in the article, many of these spaces are violating privately owned public space codes. We can talk about the socio-political implications all day long, but the law is the law. Lets keep in mind, there is no doubt that it is in the property owners best interest to restrict these spaces from the public as much as they can get away with. Generally speaking, they have no interest in curating a space for residents and tourists.

  94. @Walker We do want public spaces to be available to pedestrians to visit, eat lunch, socialized, etc. But the article seems to conflate that positive use with the alternate uses such as skateboarding and homeless sleeping. More help for the homeless is desperately needed, but the help they need is not to make garden walls more comfortable for sleeping.

  95. It's silly to equate locking a gate with trying to prevent damage to property and sleeping on benches, both of which are perfectly fine aims. Most benches can accommodate 3 people sitting but only one sleeping.

  96. spend sometime in downtown Chicago the skateboards would easily destroy almost everything you showed at ground level. credit to all who redesigned to keep the homeless at bay. Unsightly yes but until we as a society get our act together this is price we pay. Years ago we didn't have these problems at such a large scale lower wacker is almost all wrought ironed out for good reason. As far as the homeless being clean come and visit the tent cities we have under our viaducts. NYC had 3 people recently beat to death and none of them should have been living on street but all is good? And you managed to get Trumps name into story. Try and walk the strip in Vegas good luck. it's a big city problem thank you urban designers to keep people moving.

  97. The taciturn, crabby neighbor across the street 30 years ago installed a chain link fence around their property upside down, so that the sharp ends stood up like a pitch fork. The city made them pound all the ends down citing this as a public hazard regardless if it was their personal property! Incredible that today this nasty thought process is thriving in public spaces.

  98. Nonsense. Street people or street culture are just a fancy names for those we once called bums, derelicts, hobos, beggars, delinquents, and crazy. An orderly livable city must be built on a reasonable level of discipline and control. Bums and addicts sleeping on park benches is no way to run a railroad or a city.

  99. Was this written in 1919? This sounds like a rant from another century when it was socially and morally acceptable to demonize people, not help them.

  100. @David S. Of course, the way to help homeless people is to have a warm bed available, not to make it easier to sleep on a bench. The article seems to suggest that we should design spaces to make it as easy as possible for the homeless to sleep outside, which is the opposite of helping them.

  101. @Butch Yeah, in the good old days we called them bums and hobos. We used to able to use a lot of other terms too, for black and brown people, for gays, for the mentally disabled... It seems that the groups you disparage (so tellingly) should not count as being part of 'the public.'

  102. Skateboarders who vandalize public and private spaces with their tricks are a big reason spikes and cleats, etc. are on public seats, benches, ramps, and even handrails. If the public were to see how much of the city's annual budget goes to repairing damage done to public spaces by vandals, they'd be surprised.

  103. @Katrin Skateboarders' injuries are another factor. Signs prohibiting skateboarding are insufficient to prevent claims and lawsuits. Those "bolts" and barriers interrupting ledges, planters or railing surfaces prevent injuries and reduce insurance costs. On the other hand, installing "arm rests" on bus benches is only to prevent the homeless from sleeping on the benches, which is mean spirited.

  104. The solution is not to go back to having people sleeping on walls and in entryways. The way forward is for the city to provide enough beds for everyone who needs one to have access. The article is written as if it would be ideal to encourage people to sleep on the streets, as if that was part of a previous golden age of homelessness.

  105. @Carl M Per NYT: "New York City must, by court order, provide temporary shelter to any eligible person, and to comply, the city spends about $1.8 billion a year on shelters, apartments, hotel rooms and programs." Been this way a long time. Unsheltered homeless have chosen to be unsheltered. Choice is of course a difficult term to pin down in the case of mentally deranged.

  106. @andy. Maybe those that choose to remain unsheltered need some tough love and be forced into housing of some type. When do their rights to freely choose outweigh my rights to live in a reasonably clean city. Portland provides free toilets for the homeless, yet they still choose to urinate on the side of buildings even though they are within walking distance of the toilets.

  107. These modifications cost money and have some on-going maintenance costs associated with them. They are so placed to mitigate much larger behavioral and societal problems associated with the way some chose to use and abuse public space. Not all of the abusers are homeless individuals. It would be refreshing to see critics concerned as well with the rights of those who behave themselves and deserve clean and safe public spaces.

  108. The author should try living across the street from a public open space as I do. I avoid it because I can't stand the sight/odor of vomit and excrement on and near benches. I dislike seeing men urinating in corners or conducting "dime bag" transactions in the trees. Women walking to work in early morning don't appreciate those who feel compelled to expose themselves or yell out lewd profanities. When the law-abiding public makes it a point to avoid public spaces, the spaces aren't really for the public any longer.

  109. Architecture is just doing the politicians' job

  110. Lumping all these measures together does a disservice to the problem. Armrests no benches are, to me, an improvement. When I st on a bench (its intended function, BTW) I have a place to rest my arm. Cleats on a bench do not inhibit sitters either. Spikes on a railing is going a bit too far as they do inhibit the intended purpose, to allow people to have a helping hand when walking or standing. Cleats or even bolts, however, are a different story. A lack of seating in a public or semi-public space could be hostility or it could be that the designers wanted to increase traffic flow, thereby allowing more people to appreciate it.

  111. @michaelscody - you live in Niagara Falls, NY. Do you work or also live in NYC or partake of the unfriendly public spaces that are not human-friendly?

  112. The article states that 79000 New Yorkers are homeless of them 5 percent live on the streets so about 4000 then what the approximately 8 and half million other New Yorkers have to be held hostage by this small group. Having them sleep on public benches which they do not contribute to by paying taxes please give me a break

  113. I believe many of these obstacles were to dissuade skateboarders but are inherently dissuasive towards residence. Although unfortunate, major system reforms must occur to reinvent america in a way that persuades everyone to do their best.

  114. I completely agree with “Hostile Architecture”.

  115. The Queens Library disaster cries out to the media for a spate of attacks on hostile architecture, but most of this article is devoted to hostile hardware, installed after the fact and contrary to the form and function intended by the architect.

  116. "... installed after the fact ..." That's true in some cases, but the black railing with teeth along the top appears to have been cast with them. The Times provides no information on where it is located, so it is impossible to estimate how old it might be.

  117. Perhaps we should equip subways, subway cars, parks, playgrounds buses with easy chairs and beds to say nothing of spaces under sidewalk protection areas in construction zones. Why does trying to enforce some standards of decorum and civility lead to attacks?

  118. We do not want homeless sleeping on our streets, period. Efforts must include deterrents, as described in these articles, and adequate (temporary!!) shelters to get people back to independence and stable (non taxpayer funded) housing. The best way to prevent people from ending up on the streets is to focus on early childhood programs that address poverty and its extraordinary consequences. The best way to ensure civic disorder is to invite homeless to set up camp wherever they like.

  119. @C Celli Then let's also take away the right to build the tall buildings and high density structures that are allowed in exchange for public spaces. Don't blame homeless folks for using those spaces because you don't like them ...

  120. @C Celli Yes, surely it is a contributor to the homelessness crisis that it is simply too pleasant to sleep on the streets.

  121. A few weeks ago, I ventured over to Gramercy Park to have lunch. On a beautiful fall day around noon, there were only three people inside the entire park. I soon came to learn that this is because the park is walled off to the public, available only to the millionaires who can afford a townhouse overlooking it. I saw on the sidewalk alongside dozens of others, eating my lunch as pigeons circled around in hopes of some scraps. A well dressed gentleman came up to me - "How's the lunch? Looks good." "It's alright. I just wish I didn't have to eat it on the sidewalk." He smiled, and then headed across the street, up the stairs to his million dollar condo.

  122. @cwells9 Gramercy Park is NOT a Public Space NOR a Public Park. Gramercy Park is Private Property. Gramercy Park's owners are not receiving any benefits from New York City, nor any benefits from the General Public, and are paying Property Taxes for Gramercy Park, among other fees to New York, as such they can decide upon and choose who and when people can enter Gramercy Park.

  123. Yes, CoOp owners own the park and have keys to access it. No problem exists.

  124. @cwells9 You didn't have to eat your lunch on the sidewalk. You chose to eat your lunch on the sidewalk.

  125. There are two issues here: 1) Public plazas SHOULD be available for the public to use. Wasn't the point of them to provide places to sit and eat lunch, enjoy a cup of coffee or simply sit outdoors? Many building owners - who got extra floors in exchange for that public space - do not WANT the public using these spaces in any way. 2) I suspect many of the 'obstacles' found in different locations are not meant to discourage mere sitting but to discourage skateboarders. This is a completely different issue - preventing the use/misuse of places in a way that causes multiple problems. 3) The homeless ARE often themselves an issue that prevents the public from enjoying the use of ANY space. Public urination and defecation are growing urban problems (read recent articles about San Francisco). The 'personal hygiene' and behavior of many homeless - including aggressive panhandling - are offensive to others as well. As far as what to do with the homeless.... not enough room left here.

  126. Hostile architecture is in response to hostile behavior by individuals. If everyone followed the rules I guess we would’ve need these restrictions.

  127. Excellent article; thank you! Hostile architecture is an expression of bankster capitalism and its constant attack on the commonwealth.

  128. Sometimes the choice is no seating over hostile seating - I think no seating is actually more hostile than hostile seating.

  129. You’re forgetting the Vessel, made completely of stairs.

  130. If skateboarders wouldn't skate on walls and steps not intended for skateboarding (intimidating everyone else in the process) the so-called hostile architecture wouldn't be necessary. As for the homeless, as bad as their (often self-chosen) situation is, their behavior shouldn't be allowed to ruin everyone else's enjoyment of public spaces.

  131. @Jack I've just got to argue here that I've never been intimidated by any skateboarders. Dudes are all 102 pounds at best which I guess enables their death-defying stunts!

  132. Where should the homeless go? Nobody says “I want to be homeless “

  133. Maybe we should allow ourselves to be pushed out of all public spaces by those who would rather be uncivilized or disruptive. Last night I forced to wait for a bus in the rain because someone with an unbearable smell had decided to take up residence in the bus shelter. He's still there two days later. I guess according to some I should welcome this type of diversity in my neighborhood.

  134. I have news for you: the homeless population is only going to get larger. It’s a symptom. Where should people who have no homes go?

  135. Manhattan is a gated community.

  136. As if the homeless won’t find other places to sleep. This is just to keep them from passing out wherever they happen to be. In public

  137. Oh - not to mention the last sentence about the “hostility” of the UPS sign for the pigeons -Hilarious!

  138. The "ugly bolts"and "metal bars" have nothing to do with exclusion, or seating. They are there because without them, skateboarders will scrape their boards along the corners of walls, leaving a trail of destruction that is extremely expensive to repair.

  139. I see nothing wrong with any of this.

  140. Hmmm: not too many sympathizers here, NYT. Guess you’ll have to try another strategy to convince New Yorkers to cede all of their individual property rights to skateboarders and the homeless.

  141. I suspect you can divide the homeless population into the 'economic' homeless who lost a job or apartment and the 'behavioral' homeless - the mentally ill, the alcoholics, the addicts. The current homeless shelter groups of people in common sleeping areas lacking any lockers for private property. You must leave and come back at night. The old SRO's provided a cheap lockable room that you could leave property in. They served working poor and an assortment of others - including alcoholics, addicts and the 'well behaved' mentally ill. Providing similar but improved facilities - separating mentally ill, alcoholics, addicts, working poor, etc and providing appropriate supervision and support for each category might go a long way towards reducing homelessness. Working poor who cannot currently afford a place to live would benefit from facilities dedicated to their needs. A small kitchenette and fridge would be an improvement over SRO's even if bathrooms and showers were shared. The biggest problem is that cities no longer have the long term affordable residential hotels, rooming houses or even rooms for rent that were once commonplace. Zoning prohibits most of the affordable options - see the article on basement apartments a few days back.

  142. This all reminds me of the scene in "Do the Right Thing" where a man returning home asks the men lounging on his steps to move. When they pepper him with indignation, finally asking why they should move, he tiredly says, "Because I own this place," pushing past them to the front door. Everyone, these days, seems to think they have rights but no responsibilities; to be civil, to be polite, to not trash the city, to respect private property at the very minimum of what one would expect is good behavior. I have zero sympathy for those against "hostile architecture." Invite the homeless to camp out in YOUR living room, skateboarders to leave scratches on YOUR teak bench in YOUR precious, expensive, backyard garden, and anyone who wishes to defecate and urinate there. Cleaning up the filth and repairing vandalism in public spaces is expensive and time-consuming. Unfortunately, enforcement against such practices is being discouraged by allegedly "civil" authorities, so owners of these properties must minimize the damage themselves, to the annoyance of the peaceful majority and happily lawless minority.

  143. @CM Thank you! There are skateboard parks for a reason, and I want the skateboarders to be very happy there. These owners pay for the space, the insurance, the property tax- they are somehow inhumane for wanting it to remain as unscratched and pristine as possible?

  144. Come on people it is clear that these are just to prevent skateboard damage and injury/ liability. Also if you live in the city you have no problem with the "pigeons are not safe" issue, I mean really, have you ever been sitting or walking under a group of pigeons? There have been several of these silly articles in the times recently. They often show a very naive point of view with little real world balance. Note NYT, get back to the level we expect of your usually terrific publication and avoid the dribble.

  145. New York: You're Clearly Not Welcome Here.

  146. There are now homeless tents in Prospect Park's music grove. And ever since they were rebuilt, the lakeside Adirondack gazebos near the skating rink have at all hours of the day been populated by weed smokers whose behavior prohibits anyone else's enjoyment of them or even walking past them. Yes, I'm fine with saying I'm sick of it. When I was a kid, the park was neither threatening nor unsafe, nor did stenches (from marijuana, from urine) defile customary walk areas. And now New York Times writers take us to task for trying to figure out a way to limit antisocial behavior.

  147. Where should the homeless go?

  148. Maybe it is hostile, but it is for the same reason that I do not sweep acorn shells left by squirrels from the sidewalk in front of my home -- it keeps the skateboarders away.

  149. This article is absurd. I laughed when I read “the actress” was concerned she might be accused of loitering. I think the writer made her up to add controversy to a ridiculous article. Keep at it NY Times- way to get readers! (sarcasm)

  150. Besides the homeless, which is a troubling issue, the problem with this hostile architecture is that it keeps US, the general population, out. Remember, developers were allowed to add millions of dollars of extra space if they provided these amenities for the General Public, US. WE are supposed to be able to sit comfortably as a reward to us for tolerating developers' greed. WE earned the right to sit at these places because developers said we could. I hope the City steps up its enforcement. We need all the public space we can get.

  151. None of the things mentioned in this article qualify as "architecture" in my book. Hostile architecture is a castle, fortress or at least a guard post. "Defensive design" has a nice ring to it. If people are sympathetic to the homeless they can always give them couch or yard space. I did, when I was single.

  152. People have very short memories. in the 1970s in NYC many public spaces were in poor shape and if you paused in many of them you were harassed by bums and drug sellers. places like the automat became habituated by semi homeless and thus became unpleasant to be in, and went out of business. then came Giuliani and Bloomberg and these folks were not tolerated. public spaces were improved and casual restaurants proliferated. now winnie Hu and others lament public spaces which discourage bad behaving individuals and Starbucks tolerates vagrants hanging in their restaurants. good luck with all that.