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  • Why are cities full of uncomfortable benches?

  • This one has armrests to prevent you from dozing off.

  • Here's anotheragain with the arms, the stiff metal.

  • And this oneit's brand new.

  • The MTA in New York began installing them as part of a subway enhancement plan.

  • And they don't call it a bench.

  • They prefer the term "leaning bars".

  • So what if i told you it was designed with discomfort in mind?

  • New York City is filled with some of the most innovative architecture and urban planning in the world.

  • Today, nearly every kind of public space here has been developed with close attention to detail.

  • So these benches are no mistake.

  • They are designed to allow you to sit but not get too cozy.

  • And that's intentional.

  • The concept stems from a school of thought that goes by many names, but today we'll use "defensive design".

  • Defensive design is about moderating behavior.

  • The goal is to limit the ways an object can be misused.

  • These benches have armrests because that will prevent anyone from laying down.

  • Their short back is another nod to say, "This bench isn't yours forever."

  • This trend is worldwide.

  • And it's not just in the benches.

  • When you start looking for defensive designs in New York City, you'll find examples everywhere.

  • It's the presence of security cameras in subway turnstiles or Times Square.

  • It's these spikes on this column, meant to deter birds.

  • It's the knobs on these ledges, meant to discourage skateboarders.

  • And there were once sprinklers underneath the awning of this bookstore, to prevent people from sleeping there.

  • It's sidewalk barriers.

  • It's even these regular streetlights.

  • Yeah, streetlights are probably some of the most recognizable defensive designs.

  • When they surfaced in the 19th-century Western cities, the dynamic of urban life changed.

  • Because of them, more people spent time outside at night, which drove economic development and a reduction in crime.

  • Most hostile architecture tries to influence behavior in a similar way.

  • The designs attempt to make public space a bit more hospitable, more ideal.

  • Defensive designs can deter crime.

  • It can prevent the destruction of public property.

  • And it can prevent loitering.

  • But there is a reason why defensive design is characterized as "hostile".

  • Take the example of the leaning bar.

  • Disability advocates have a problem with that appearing in the MTA.

  • One advocate pointed out that "People who travel who have disabilities or just get tired sometimes need a bench to sit on, and not a wall to lean against."

  • And while no one likes an uncomfortable bench, these additions mean something more for people who are experiencing homelessness.

  • The United States is currently experiencing a decline in the overall homeless population.

  • But in New York city, the number of homeless people is growing.

  • About 1800 people were found to have been sleeping in the subway.

  • That's because emergency shelter isn't always a viable option.

  • There are several examples of hostile architecture that target people who are homeless.

  • These designs imply that public space is not where homeless people should be.

  • As it goes, city planners have a dilemmahow do they design inclusive cities?

  • As for the enhanced subway initiative, the MTA's mock designs highlight new USB ports and electronic signage in stations.

  • But you won't find any press materials highlighting this uncomfortable bench.

  • Excuse me, the "leaning bar".

  • That's because it makes for an uncomfortable discussion about who we design public space for and who gets left out.

Why are cities full of uncomfortable benches?

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Why cities are full of uncomfortable benches

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    Evangeline posted on 2021/03/04
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