D.C. residents took to social media and community web pages to find the culprit behind a guerilla-style campaign to keep people from lying down on public benches. They successfully got the Department of Parks and Recreation involved, who removed the bench dividers in Lamont Park. The incident sparked discussions about public space.

The rally-cry began among D.C. residents of Lamont Park. A post about make-shift bench blockers was created on a D.C. community blog called PoPville. The April 20 post seeks to identify the creator of these bench blockers and asks for potential solutions to address the issue. The creator of the post, identified by the username Prince of Petworth, says that they have lived on the block for over seven years and have never once been bothered by people reclining on the benches. The photos were taken in Mount Pleasant's Lamont Park. The benches gained even more attention after the blog post was reposted on Twitter by a popular political journalist: [embed]https://twitter.com/willsommer/status/857006315427823616[/embed]

What is Hostile Architecture?

Prince of Petworth, the creator of the PoPville post, referred to the bench dividers as "hostile architecture." This term caught on, as most terms do, after an article went viral. The website Popular Science dug into this term in their article, "When Design Is Hostile on Purpose."
While we often think of design as something that should be welcoming, comfortable, and apt for human use, Coby McDonald of Popular Science points out that sometimes the opposite is true:
Design can be intentionally repellent, discouraging certain uses of spaces and things, often by specific, targeted demographics... Take a public bench: Though its primary purpose is to give people a place to sit, it can also be used for sleeping, skate tricks, or even romantic entanglements. If such uses are deemed inappropriate, unpleasant design elements can be added to deter them. For example, strategically placed arm rests can make sleeping uncomfortable, skating dangerous, and love-making gymnastic, thereby forcing 'proper' use of the bench."
McDonald points out that a common use of this hostile architecture is the deterrence of homeless people. Such designs could include spikes or pegs for preventing people from lying down on certain surfaces.
[caption id="attachment_1781" align="aligncenter" width="620"]D.C. Residents Mandatory Credit: Photo by Imaginechina/REX (1790320a)
Rows of concrete spikes
Concrete spikes built to stop homeless from sleeping under road bridge, Guangzhou city, Guangdong province, China - 02 Jul 2012[/caption]

How Public Is Public Space?

McDonald discusses the professional insight of Gordan Savičić and Selena Savić, authors of the book "Unpleasant Design." Savić wrote about public space, stating: "Public space is the tool, object, and place of negotiation... When it becomes not negotiable, its publicness also becomes questionable."
To explain, she used an example of a police officer asking a homeless person to get off a bench. In that situation, negotiation is possible; but, if a bench is divided with a makeshift bench-blocker, then no negotiation is possible.
Overall, the incident sparked a dialogue among D.C. residents about public space. Another commentator on the Lamont Park bench incident expressed a similar idea: 
Public Space doesn't mean 'space for everyone you’re comfortable with.' We talk so much about how we love how this region has so many open park spaces and public transit. However, occasionally that means sharing public facilities with people who may not meet our expectations of who should be in a park."

A Resolution Reached

A resolution was reached after the photo of the bench dividers made its round on social media. The post on PoPville was later updated with a statement from The Department of Parks and Recreation.
The Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) would like to thank the community for bringing this to our attention. The installation of the middle dividers was not authorized by the District government. Therefore, at DPR’s request, the Department of General Services (DGS) removed the dividers earlier this week.”
In conclusion, public space is for everyone. That includes those without the privilege of a private space to call home. Yet, that might also mean public space is also for the vigilant carpenters who want to build bench dividers. Who knows? Maybe they were just tired of people sitting too close to them!
What do you think about "hostile architecture" in your community? How "public" should public space be?

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