Hostile architecture


What is hostile architecture?

Single-seat benches and defensive concrete balls. Spikes sticking out of the ground, sloped windowsills and bars fitted into different surfaces. These are just some examples of the hostile architecture we find in big cities that constitutes a violation of homeless people’s rights.

At Arrels we demand that our cities be made more inclusive and that solutions be found to stop anyone having to sleep on the street. Help us make the barriers of our urban environment more visible in the social networks with the hashtag #FemCiutatsInclusives and in this collaborative map.

“Bars dividing seats on bus-stop benches, spikes sticking out of the ground, single-seat benches… is that really how to stop seeing people sleeping on the street?” This is the kind of question we hear being asked by people who have lived on the street, and here at Arrels we believe the answer is no. These architectural barriers are not the solution because the problem does not disappear; it simply moves on to another place. In fact, these barriers make life more difficult for homeless people and constitute a violation of their rights.

How does hostile architecture affect people living on the street?

  • It makes people’s everyday life more difficult. Living on the street means not having a safe space to rest, store your things or enjoy your privacy. It also means having to face innumerable risks on a daily basis, and architectural barriers often create additional difficulties. Luis, who has lived on the street for many years, considers them “horrible and even unethical”. Moreover, Barcelona’s municipal ordinances on uncivil behaviour impose further barriers by sanctioning “the use of public benches and seating for other than their intended purpose”.
  • It increases people’s stress and anxiety. When you live in the street you have to face fear and insecurity and deal with physical and mental fatigue every day. With these barriers comes the feeling that society has rejected you and the pressure of having to find a new safe place to sleep each night. “For someone who lives on the street and is looking for a place to bed down, it’s the meanness of those spikes that gets to you,” says one person we know. “It’s how those spikes look as well as how they feel.”
  • It violates people’s rights. Living on the street means having to find a safe space where you can take shelter and feel protected. When these barriers prevent this, many of our rights are being violated. One of the people Arrels knows has tried to go on sleeping in the same doorway where he has spent the night for the last seven years, despite the fact that a few months ago someone blocked most of the doorway with planters. All he can say now when the local police walk by and tell him his legs are in people’s way is “So cut them off if you want and then they won’t bother anyone.”
  • It makes it difficult for people working with the homeless to locate a person in need. When a homeless person is forced to change the place they usually spend the night, they risk getting cut off from any social support team that might be visiting them there. This happens to us at Arrels, where relocating a person and establishing contact again can take time because the one way we had of finding them is gone.
  • It criminalizes people. People live on the street not because they want to, but because they have to; because they have no other place to live. Nor are they in this situation because they deserve it or because they have asked for it. But in addition to making life on the street uncomfortable and difficult, these barriers criminalize the most vulnerable people because it makes their homelessness look like their fault.
  • It fails to act on the causes. Rather than offering solutions, architectural barriers wall off public spaces where people could rest and they basically make a real social problem invisible. As one of the formerly homeless people we know says, “It’s a sad way of understanding public space, pushing away people who have problems instead of solving those problems”.

So what do we want at Arrels?

  • We demand friendly and committed cities with welcoming and inclusive public spaces. To echo the words of many of the people we help at Arrels, we demand cities that stop people from sleeping in the street by opening more shelters and facilities instead of putting down spikes, posts, bollards and other barriers.
  • We urge our political parties to address the situation of homeless people by investing in more housing and programmes to prevent evictions, by creating a proper system of social security benefits and including solutions to homelessness in their party programmes and election campaigns.
  • We want our community to become aware of the predicament, to break down prejudices and understand that people do not sleep on benches or in doorways because they want to but because their ties to society have been broken; because they have nowhere to go. And we want our community to appreciate that getting off the street is a slow process with no short-term solutions.
  • We propose that mediation is the key and that we need to talk to the homeless people who want to talk to us rather than judge them, to ask them what they need, to agree on ways of sharing living space, contact other organizations and municipal care services and help orient people towards the resources they can use. And we want these things to happen before the winter because if living on the street is hard all year round then emergency situations like winter are even worse and must be foreseen.
  • We want you to get involved and demand that our government finds solutions; and we want those of our citizens who are also property owners to offer more affordable rents. We want our community to raise awareness about the situation and work together to make #nobodysleepingonthestreet possible — as it surely must be if, just like a 2023 public survey conducted by Arrels showed, 84% of the citizens of Barcelona believe homelessness is a serious problem that must be solved.
  • We want you to make the examples of homelessness in your neighbourhood more visible by using the hashtag #FemCiutatsInclusives in the social networks or adding photographs and specific locations to this collaborative map.
  • We demand access for one and all to proper, long-term housing with social support so that people who sleep on the street can regain their rights. And until that happens we demand that our city council open small, safe and welcoming spaces throughout the city so that no one has to sleep on the street.

It’s time to make our cities inclusive!

We want homeless people to be able to make use of public space like other citizens and we want our community to care about everyone having a home where they can sleep at night. We are convinced that #nobodysleepingonthestreet is possible but in order for it to happen we need more social care, more housing policies aimed at the homeless and more prevention programmes to stop people losing their homes.