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Urban Compass Calgary

Metro keeps a finger on the pulse of our city.

If you were disturbed by the anti-homeless spikes in London, consider Calgary

If you use metal spikes to keep homeless people away from certain spots, you risk an angry public reaction from those who deem you cruel.

But if you use a more subtle design — the kind that’s popping up everywhere in Calgary these days — you’ll likely get away with it.

Residents of a luxury apartment in London experienced the first response after somebody tweeted photos of their building entrance last month. The shots showed a small nook outside the door that could presumably double as a sleeping spot for a homeless person but for rows of metal spikes embedded in the concrete.

Twitter users went ballistic, pointing out that vulnerable people were now being treated like pigeons.

It’s easy to condemn the London spikes as inhumane, but the same thing is happening in cities around the world, including Calgary.

Writing for The Atlantic last month, Robert Rosenberger noted that the London spikes “are by no means the only form of homeless-deterrent technology; they are simply the most conspicuous.”

He continued: “Will public concern over the spikes extend to other less obvious instances of anti-homeless design? Perhaps the first step lies in recognizing the political character of the devices all around us.”

So let’s look at our city. What do we see?

Well, if you’ve been on a transit platform lately, you’ll notice that benches — traditionally long and flat — are being replaced with curvy benches that have metal ridges dividing the surface into several individual seats.

These ridges are not armrests; they serve no practical use for someone waiting for a train. They do, however, render the surface unusable as a place to lie down.

Similar public seating is popping up all over the city in parks, on streets and elsewhere. Look around and you’ll find sloped and divided seating that is designed to move people along.

Earlier this year, the city-owned Calgary Municipal Land Corporation removed its green lounge chairs (extra comfy!) in East Village because “the infrastructure wasn’t being used in the manner it was intended.” Sleeping was one of these unintended uses.

The public washrooms in East Village also got locked up.

Now the outdoor furniture is pulled out and the washrooms get unlocked for events that attract well-to-do folks from outside the neighbourhood.

When it’s just the locals around — many of whom are rough sleepers — these small comforts stay under lock and key.

The rise in anti-homeless design has coincided with several laudable local anti-poverty efforts including the 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness and the city’s poverty reduction strategy.

These efforts focus on making our community more inclusive and ensuring that everybody has basic needs, including housing.

Given this context, it’s a shame that our public spaces are being remade with hostility toward vulnerable Calgarians.

If we’re disturbed by the spikes in London, we should be equally disturbed by this.

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