You might walk around your city focused only on the countless possibilities that metropolitan locales seem to guarantee in their architecture, their bustling and ever-growing populations, or the cultural encounters that never seem to run out. You might walk around thinking that your city looks out for you, both figuratively and literally, and that it wants only the best for you.
What you might not realize, though, is that your city was crafted to make you believe such a thing, when in fact, this isn’t the whole story. You know what they say, though: Ignorance is bliss. Keeping your eyes peeled may reveal another side to the place you so lovingly call home.
These days, it seems like cameras are everywhere. Inside every building, outside every building, on streetlights, and even on telephone poles. While Big Brother certainly has his mitts on plenty of what you and your fellow man do, he isn’t quite as prevalent as your city—or your local conspiracy theorist—might want you to believe. Did you know that, as it happens, not all the cameras in your city are real? Yup, that’s right.
Now, there’s one very clear reason to put up a slew of cameras, even if they aren’t all real. It’s like that classic magician’s trick. You know, the one where both hands are closed, but you know that in one of them, there’s an object—a ball or little token usually. While you know the other is empty, you can never be entirely sure which of the two hands holds the token, so you’re extra careful when it comes to choosing one. After all, you know there’s a 50 percent chance you’re wrong.
It’s the same thing with these cameras. Unless you’re going up to one and inspecting it personally, you have no idea which ones are really tracking your movements and which are just there for show. In a way, your city is training you to be a better citizen without ever reprimanding you—through just the fear of getting caught.
Have you ever noticed that the benches around your city aren’t very comfortable? They have inconvenient arm rests, are sloped, have railings, or some other barrier? This is intentional, and it’s not just for the aesthetics, either. These kinds of things are designed to keep people from laying down in these areas.
There are also things called half-benches, which would be the tiny slabs of “bench” (if you can even be so generous as to call it that) which you might see at a London bus stop, for instance.
These half-benches were created by a movement called Unpleasant Design. They give people a place to lean on, but not a place where they can sit or lay down for long periods of time. Not exactly as welcoming as you might have once thought, is it?
Then you come to special benches. One such “special bench” is often ridged and can resemble more of an uneven stone than a place to rest after a long day. There’s a reason for that. This sort of bench has been specifically designed to discourage wrongdoing. The bench has weird, stone-like features and angles that aren’t there to strike your artistic fancy, but to keep people from staying on it too long.
Oh, and don’t try scribbling on these benches either, because they just so happen to have another lovely feature: graffiti resistance. We’re not entirely sure if that’s just a resistance to pens and markers, or paint too.
The design is also aimed to, get this, keep drug dealers from staying in the area.
— ianVisits (@ianvisits) November 26, 2016
Maybe you’ve noticed that urban skateboarders are few and far between these days. The video below explains how your city may be to blame:
Empty Police Cars
How many times has this happened? You’re driving happily down the road, not a care in the world, and you round the corner, spot a cop car, and immediately slam on the brakes. Once you make your way up to the car though, you realize no one is inside.
It’s a similar rationalization to that of fake CCTV cameras. You never know which will be empty, which will be fake, and which will be holding a real live cop, ready and waiting to ticket you. So you pull out all the stops—no pun intended—to convince whoever might be waiting inside that car (if anyone at all) that you’re a conscious and upstanding citizen.
Another way this instance can be looked at is the experiment of Pavlov’s Dog, otherwise known as classical conditioning, or respondent conditioning. The long and short of the experiment is: a dog was given a treat every time he heard a particular noise. So every time he heard this noise, he expected to receive a treat, and would respond as he was trained, whether or not said treat was available.
— PositivoBH (@PositivoBH) August 18, 2019
He was conditioned to believe that a certain cause, being the noise, would always result in a certain outcome, being the treat. It’s the same with people and cops. If we see a cop, we automatically assume something is wrong or will be soon enough, and we respond in kind.
Rocks Under Bridges
If you’ve driven or walked under a bridge before, you’ve probably seen rocks underneath the bridge, or maybe a steep slope. Have you ever wondered why these happen to exist under there, or whether it’s just a coincidence? Well, it’s definitely not the latter. There’s a deeper meaning for these rocks, slopes, and other things that make the ground a bit uncomfortable to walk on. In fact, that is the very point. This is a consciously designed aspect of these locations, meant to discourage the homeless from making any shelters there.
In late-April 2016, it was reported that riprap, a “loose stone used to form a foundation for a breakwater or other structure” was installed next to a San Diego overpass, following a collection of complaints from residents regarding “homeless encampments … [that] had made it difficult and sometimes dangerous for pedestrians.”
As you can probably imagine, these sorts of structures illicit controversy: those in support of protecting and assisting the homeless aren’t entirely thrilled, while those who live nearby and are actually affected by it tend to breathe a sigh of relief.
— You can't fight capitalism with woke capitalism (@africasacountry) June 11, 2014
Though it isn’t all a pro-this or anti-that argument, as one such San Diego man, Ildefonso Carrillo noted, “We’re not anti-homeless. We’re pro-resident.” Others haven’t seen it the same way, with at least one advocacy group for the homeless calling for a protest.
It’s an understandably heated debate and a hot-button issue in areas with a heavy homeless population, such as San Diego. There, even those who aren’t homeless can’t avoid thinking about the implications of such a move. Is there anything in our cities that isn’t a subliminal social construct? Probably not very much, to be honest.
Almost every store where you shop, from the mall to the grocery store, features a design that can pull you in and make you spend your hard-earned money. Lots of money goes into marketing and studying what will draw someone in. For instance, you know those massive, eye-catching “sale” signs you see (we’re looking at you, Black Friday and Cyber Monday)? In fact, the goal isn’t even to get customers to shop the sales, but simply to get people in the store, where they’ll then set their eyes on the ever-more expensive full-price merchandise.
It makes sense though, doesn’t it? Let’s say, for instance, you are just buying sale items after all. Well, what if one item is $20, and normally you’d only buy the one, but today, it’s “Buy One, Get One Half-Off”? What are you going to do? You’re probably going to buy both items and end up spending $10 more than you originally planned.
According to Shopify, the red used for many of these signs isn’t a coincidental choice either, it convinces people to speed up their reactions and do so with more force. That makes sense though, doesn’t it? Red’s never really been used as a laid back color. On the contrary, it’s been “programmed into our psyche as a cue for danger.”
It’s not uncommon to find street poles shrouded in stickers of mantras, Banksy creations, and band promotions. That’s not even taking into account the posters that go up on these things, from missing pets to items, we could go on. After all, cities are eclectic places full of interesting characters.
It’s not entirely shocking then, that some cities may not be the biggest fans of such varied forms of expression finding a home on their streets. This is why some places have placed sheets around said poles, in the effort to keep people from putting stickers or posters on them.
While this might appear to be an inconvenience, or a stifling of freedom of speech/expression…okay, well, it sort of is a bit. After all, how many storefronts do you know that would let you put up promotional items or stickers free of charge? They wouldn’t, and nor should they have to—it’s their business, they can do what they want with it.
A city, on the other hand, is home to so many people, voices, and thoughts, that to just take away a venue, of sorts, known for giving people a means of expressing themselves, seems a bit like asking them to keep their opinions to themselves. In any case, if you stumble upon these poles, you’ll just have to find another place to post up your lost dog posters.
These decorative stones might look nice, but what if we told you they aren’t there for decoration? Just when you thought cities had run out of ways to stick it to the homeless, and to loiterers, we’re here to tell you there are more methods up their sleeves. Not all buildings have these diamond-shaped structures on the sidewalk outside, but the ones that do are trying their darnedest to prevent people from sitting and sleeping there.
Anti-homeless architecture outside MMU. Unpleasant, unnecessary, unfair. On May the 3rd, vote for Councillors who will make such crue designs a thing of the past.
John Bridges ✖️
Gary McKenna ✖️
George Rice ✖️ pic.twitter.com/0ywGMh81rL
— Deansgate Lib Dems #FBPE (@DeansgateLibDem) April 17, 2018
To be fair, “No Loitering” signs don’t often work. Though, as loiterers don’t often sit on the sidewalk outside a building, it’s pretty safe to say this is targeted more at the homeless. Whether you believe such a practice to be justifiable—for the sake of the people who work and travel near these buildings—or unethical—for those who don’t have a home of their own and need somewhere to count on—that’s another topic for another time.
The Guardian has referred to this as “defensive architecture,” though whether it’s more defensive or offensive, is dependent on your personal beliefs. There’s certainly a darker side to this though, as evidenced in The Guardian’s piece, wherein a good point is brought up: what if you’re not homeless or loitering, but it’s raining and you need shelter because you haven’t come prepared? They ask, “What if you can’t walk far and your bags are heavy? It’s your fault for not being able to afford a cab.” Of course, this isn’t on the same level as blaming the homeless for being homeless, but it’s something closer to home for many.
People are paid to design and build these things.
The only anti-homeless architecture we should build – is a home. pic.twitter.com/GGL7MZPZqe
— Roger Gall (@Shambles151) November 26, 2018
The point is that, similarly to how non-skateboarding folk wouldn’t think much about “pig ears,” those who have a home to retreat to each night likely won’t think too much about these window diamonds. Granted, we’re not about to say the shapes are particularly sightly, but past that, they probably wouldn’t elicit thoughts about social construct either.