Tuesday March 17, 2015

Defensive architecture is keeping some people out of public spaces

These controversial 'anti-homeless' spikes were quickly removed after they were installed in front of Archambault in downtown Montreal last summer.

These controversial 'anti-homeless' spikes were quickly removed after they were installed in front of Archambault in downtown Montreal last summer. (CBC)

Listen 24:58

From uncomfortable benches to spikes in doorways, as part of our By Design series, we explore how spaces ostensibly made for everyone are welcoming only to some.

Alex Andreou is an actor living in London, U.K. Six years ago, a series of personal tragedies led to Mr. Andreou living on the streets, or as they say in England, "sleeping rough." 

In the years since, he's managed to pull himself out of that precarious situation, but the experience changed the way he saw the city. While living on the streets, he came to see the city as something that was designed against him.

It's not just homeless people who see the city as something that's been designed against them. Another group have been called the canary in the coal mine of defensive architecture — skateboarders. 

To the city's rule enforcers, such as security guards, skateboarders can represent a noisy and destructive scourge. But they can also be instructive — especially when it comes to how governments manage public space. 

To talk about this idea, we were joined by Ocean Howell. He's a professor of history and architectural history at the Robert D. Clark Honors College at the University of Oregon. He is also a former professional skateboarder. 

Many of these public spaces under discussion are privately owned or managed. Privately Owned Publicly-Accessible Spaces — or POPS — are a growing trend in Canada's big cities. Toronto now has a project underway to catalogue and map the city's POPS. 

But critics say POPS shouldn't be celebrated. To find out more, we were joined by Ute Lehrer. She's an associate professor of urban planning at York University. 

This segment was produced by The Current's Naheed Mustafa