When you stroll around your favorite city, what do you notice about its architecture? Its famous landmarks? The beautiful greenery among the towering skyscrapers? Or perhaps the lively and inviting public spaces? These elements certainly grab our attention, but that's not all there is. See, bars on benches and spikes on window sills are also a part of the urban landscape, and it’s put in place to control how the environments are used.

There are many things that influence how we feel in our surroundings that we almost never notice. But unfortunately, such aggressive measures are more common than you may think, according to the eye-opening Twitter account titled 'Hostile Design'. The creator of this page collects pictures that show the dire reality of how public spaces target the houseless and don’t actually do any good to the public.

If you’re unsure of what we mean, then take a look at the compilation of pictures we gathered from the account. Just to warn you though, it’s one of those things that once you learn about it, you start seeing it everywhere. Keep reading to also find in-depth interviews with the founder of this page and public space researcher Cara Chellew. Upvote the examples that stunned you most, and if you've ever detected cases of hostile design in your own city, be sure to let us know about them in the comments below.

Psst! More urban madness can be found in our earlier post right here.

#2

Hostile-Design-Pics

hostiledesign Report

Michelle Line
Community Member
3 months ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

I understand homeless and homeless camps are undesirable and can be problematic, but a lack of compassion is not the answer.

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For some time now, the concept of hostile design (or defensive design) has been at the center of a complex and heated debate, as people and advocates who use these public spaces have started documenting examples they encountered. These design features are made to intentionally exclude, harm, or hinder the freedom of human beings. Whether they target loitering teens, skateboard enthusiasts, or houseless individuals, they’re designed to remove a certain part of the community from a public space.

To gain insight from an expert in the field, we reached out to Cara Chellew, a public space researcher, writer, and PhD student in Urban Planning, Policy & Design at McGill University. She is also the founder of the Defensive Urbanism Research Network, as well as defensiveTO, a site aimed to shed light on how defensive urban design influences how we interact with public spaces. When it comes to terminology, Chellew prefers to use the word "defensive" to describe this design and spatial management strategy "because it defends space against unwanted use."

"This term includes objects like planter boxes that are installed in doorways to prevent people from seeking refuge but are not inherently hostile. Defensive urbanism can create hostile environments," she told Bored Panda. "Of course, some design is inherently hostile like spikes installed on ledges to keep people from sitting."

#4

Hostile-Design-Pics

hostiledesign Report

Cecilia Herrera
Community Member
3 months ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

Uncomfortable people will not linger and talk with their friends. So, less tables are needed because they will be vacated quickly. Does anyone besides me notice that the short people, be they children or short adults, must prop their feet on the table framework in order to not slide off their uncomfortable seat?! What about people with knee or other leg problems? Did anyone consider them? Is this design a direct violation of the ADA? Shame on the designer, and shame on the people that allowed these table / bench combinations to be set up on their premise.

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According to Chellew, defensive or hostile urbanism uses elements in the built environment to guide or restrict behaviors in urban space. "The behaviors targeted are those that are associated with people who use and rely on public space the most, like people who are unhoused and youth. Many of the behaviors targeted for people that are unhoused are essential for their survival — sleeping, going to the washrooms, finding food, panhandling, etc."

Chellew pointed out that these measures are what makes the practice especially cruel. "It does nothing to address the widespread problem of housing affordability and lack of free mental health and addiction supports. Defensive/hostile design attempts to displace people who need help rather than creating spaces that could support human wellbeing."

#8

Hostile-Design-Pics

hostiledesign Report

Esha
Community Member
3 months ago (edited) Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

The city should take responsibility and do something about the problem.

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#9

Hostile-Design-Pics

hostiledesign Report

Pterodactyl in Disguise
Community Member
3 months ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

Isn’t that a railing, isn’t it’s intended purpose to be to have people lean and or hold onto it??!?!

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We also managed to get in touch with the creator of 'Hostile Design', Kristi, who was kind enough to chat with us about the background of their social media project and its community. When asked what inspired them to launch the page in the first place, Kristi explained that people have been documenting Savehostile design for years. "I’m just highlighting what people find. I’m not an expert in any way, shape or form," they said.

Even though the account was created only last month, it has already gained a strong foothold on the platform. With over 89K followers, the page is the perfect outlet for people to contribute with their own examples and participate in meaningful discussions surrounding the matter. "The followers all seemed as annoyed about this behavior in public design as I am."

"It’s only been a few weeks [but] I probably have 200 message requests right now," Kristi explained how many submissions the followers send over. Although it may seem like a high number, the founder said it’s quite easy for them to manage the account. "Open a DM, save the photo, credit it to the user, post."

#10

Hostile-Design-Pics

hostiledesign Report

Icy_Question_4977
Community Member
3 months ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

If they don’t want people sitting on it, then don’t even build it !

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#12

Hostile-Design-Pics

hostiledesign Report

Lyone Fein
Community Member
3 months ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

These designs are also really awful for the elderly and disabled.

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Hostile design seems to flourish in the big cities around the globe, as supporters say it’s sometimes necessary to put an end to unwanted behavior. But opponents, activists, and academics who spend time researching these measures call it an inhumane practice as it targets specific sections of the community, especially the houseless.

When asked Kristi to share their own opinion about this, they were completely against it. "You should remove as many bench handles as you can when you see them in public. If you see pointless instructions under a bridge or spikes on top of a fire hydrant, you should remove them if possible. Again, I’m not an expert on this stuff. There are academics doing research that are far better at explaining the history and flaws."

#13

Hostile-Design-Pics

hostiledesign Report

#14

Hostile-Design-Pics

hostiledesign Report

Bella10
Community Member
3 months ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

I don’t disagree with this. My local public toilet is a haven for drug users and used as a beat.

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Speaking of the biggest faults of defensive design features, Chellew said they create public spaces that are hostile to us all. "For example, the most common form of defensive urbanism in North American cities is the absence or removal of public amenities that make public spaces comfortable for people to use — benches, public washrooms, places of shelter and shade."

"When these public amenities are removed or omitted for fear of misuse or 'loitering', it affects how everyone can use and access the space," she added. "It especially makes it difficult for people who are elderly, people with disabilities, people with chronic illness, families with young children, etc. to navigate the city and access public space."

#16

Hostile-Design-Pics

hostiledesign Report

Misterscooter
Community Member
3 months ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

You see this in cities a lot to keep people out of private yards. Often in older parts of the city. Looks better than barbed wire, for sure. In New Orleans, it deters the drunk tourists from using your yard as a toilet.

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#17

Hostile-Design-Pics

DominicJCunneen Report

Alethia Nyx
Community Member
3 months ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

This isn't to stop sleeping, it's to stop skateboards etc.

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While there seems to be a number of reasons these public spaces get designed in a way that doesn’t actually serve the public, Kristi said the main goal is to keep out "the undesirables". "This doesn’t just include the houseless but also the working class that might need to loiter for a bit waiting on public transportation or resting between shifts. It’s a way to keep people always on the move instead of having public spaces that are inviting and welcoming. And a city that keeps its houseless away is a city that can pretend it doesn’t have any."

#19

Hostile-Design-Pics

hostiledesign Report

Alexandria Z
Community Member
3 months ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

First time a firemen gets cut on one of these bet there will be hell to pay.

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#21

Hostile-Design-Pics

Tonyatwork Report

William Bass
Community Member
3 months ago (edited) Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

OMG! That's the exact bench that I was about to post! It's the one on 39th Ave. In my hometown of Portland OR.

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The recurring examples of hostile design are not to say designers and architects themselves are encouraging it — that’s rarely the case. As Chellew told us, it happens because cities and private developers are looking for quick-fix solutions. "If there are complaints that people are sleeping on benches it is easier to put center bars on benches rather than looking at why people have to sleep on benches in the first place."

If we want to see change and create public spaces that would feel inviting to all, "we must also address the lack of affordable housing and lack of free mental health and addiction supports," she explained. "It is all interconnected."

#23

Hostile-Design-Pics

hostiledesign Report

crazy_stupid
Community Member
3 months ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

Looks like she could give Bruce Banner a run for his money 😂

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Chellew said the use of defensive design to govern public spaces is a political and ethical decision. "Policy must be changed at the municipal or even provincial or state level to prohibit design and management approaches that are meant to make spaces less accessible and more uncomfortable." 

"People can engage with their local political representatives through requesting meetings or creating petitions. In addition, professionals like planners, designers, and architects must take a stand against the practice as unethical as it does not promote the public good," she concluded. 

#27

Hostile-Design-Pics

hostiledesign Report

Misterscooter
Community Member
3 months ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

Which is more hostile here, the clown or the multi-national corporation?

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#28

Hostile-Design-Pics

hostiledesign Report

Lutz Herting
Community Member
3 months ago (edited) Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

Come on. These are clearly to help get up from a particularly low bench. Benches that low can be a serious problem for the elderly or other people with mobility issues. This page is getting more ridiculous the farther you scroll down...

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#29

Hostile-Design-Pics

hostiledesign Report

Wood Carver
Community Member
3 months ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

Spikes are tough to see in this one... zoom on in

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#30

Hostile-Design-Pics

hostiledesign Report

Michelle Line
Community Member
3 months ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

I'm not seeing the hostility here. You sit in the bottom of a curve and it deters a stranger from sitting right next to you. If someone does sit next to you on the top of a curve, then you know to get the helloutta there.

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#31

Hostile-Design-Pics

emsbrd Report

Bella V
Community Member
3 months ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

This one is stupid, first off, it looks too narrow to lay down any how and PLENTY of space in-between to sit.

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#32

Hostile-Design-Pics

hostiledesign Report

Misterscooter
Community Member
3 months ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

My guess on this is that sitting on a semi-temporary barrier along a roadside is not very safe.

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#33

Hostile-Design-Pics

hostiledesign Report

Misterscooter
Community Member
3 months ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

Let's see. Rain drains better, less muddy to walk on and not slippery. Oh, and skateboarders won't take up the space. And since we can't see what's around this space, who knows what the purpose is here.

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#35

Hostile-Design-Pics

hostiledesign Report

UselessKnowledgeFont
Community Member
3 months ago Created by potrace 1.15, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2017

? I want to see the rest of the surrounding park, because this reminds me of a bench for sit-ups like can be found on a exercise circuit at my local park.

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Note: this post originally had 36 images. It’s been shortened to the top 35 images based on user votes.