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Hostile Edmonton

Why has our city taken the ‘public’
out of  public spaces?

This art piece doubles as a deterrent to people who might want to lie down.


Statues taking up part of a bench are not only art, but also make comfortable seating impossible.


When LRT stations provide limited seating, unhoused people will resort to sleeping in hallways and on stairs.


Benches with metal bars discourage long rests.


Seats at bus stations have armrests
that deter people from lying down.


This bench on 104th Avenue has dividers to deter reclining.


A round anti-homeless knob stands guard
in a downtown park.

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Photo feature by Emilie Lavoie

HOSTILE ARCHITECTURE is a symptom of a city that has decided it has no place for non-paying customers.

Also known as anti-homeless architecture, the style of design ensures that any people using the space will be in a constant state of transit.

To discourage people from using the space, benches will often be outfitted with metal knobs and spikes that don’t allow for reclining or sitting.

Other forms of hostile architecture use poles as partial fences to discourage skateboarding or biking. Many stores and buildings play loud music to keep people from staying around long.

This is a form of the soft policy of exclusion. Nothing explicitly says homeless people have less right to use a public space. But architecture enforces that sentiment without a written law or sign, responding to the fear that homeless people and drug addicts will flood the streets and make it unsafe for the rest of us.

The main defence of hostile architecture is often that it keeps the streets clean or safe. By using metal dividers on the benches in bus shelters, people who are not using the transit service are discouraged from hanging around, leaving the space to transit riders who need them.

But Edmonton has a not-so-distant history of using this same argument to remove unhoused people from public spaces. Earlier this year transit officers ejected people from LRT stations into frigid conditions.

The main argument of proponents of hostile architecture, such as Karl de Licht, falls flat. Many of Edmonton’s homeless use LRT stations and public spaces, regardless of the pegged benches. They simply relocate to the hallways and staircases; therefore, the solution is no solution.

As many as 2,800 people are without housing in Edmonton, the most since 2014, and double the number recorded in 2019, according to a report from the city of Edmonton.

There has been criticism of anti-homeless spikes outside the CIBC building at Jasper and 101st, and they were promptly removed after public backlash. Many places in Edmonton continue to use other variations of hostile design that are less buzz-worthy but no less inhospitable.

Hostile architecture tells everyone that public spaces are not for them.

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