Saturday, December 6, 2008

Defensive Architecture

A small sitting area in front of a row house. This is located just off of the sidewalk on a public street in Baltimore.

I will never forget the day, some 15 years ago, when I first read the work of Mike Davis. His essay, Fortress L.A., examined the many ways that cities work to keep out segments of the population via design. He wrote about how public space was thwarted in a very calculated manner:
"One of the simplest but most mean-spirited of these deterrents is the...barrel-shaped bus bench, which offers a minimal surface for uncomfortable sitting while making sleeping impossible. Such "bumproof" benches are being widely introduced on the periphery of Skid Row [in Los Angeles]. Another invention is the aggressive deployment of outdoor sprinklers. Several years ago the city opened a Skid Row Park; to ensure that the park could not be used for overnight camping, overhead sprinklers were programmed to drench unsuspecting sleepers at random times during the night. The system was immediately copied by local merchants to drive the homeless away from [public] storefront sidewalks. Meanwhile Downtown restaurants and markets have built baroque enclosures to protect their refuse from the homeless. Although no one in Los Angeles has yet proposed adding cyanide to the garbage, as was suggested in Phoenix a few years back, one popular seafood restaurant has spent $12,000 to build the ultimate bag-lady-proof trash cage: three-quarter-inch steel rod with alloy locks and vicious out-turned spikes to safeguard moldering fishheads and stale french fries."

I thought about Davis the other day as I walked through a new, planned community on the water in Charleston, South Carolina. Tucked into a well manicured lawn was this bird feeder:

It’s a gated bird house in a gated community. Ringed with spikes and wire meshing, it keeps out the wrong kind of birds and animals and serves only, I suppose, aesthetically-pleasing, cute little birds. I took this walk on Thanksgiving day. Inside the enormous new houses people were sacrificing glistening stuffed poultry in the name of gratitude.