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Fairview’s inoffensive defensive architecture

March 26, 2015
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The closest things to anti-homeless spikes in Fairview isn’t as offensive as it is neat.

If Vancouver buildings don’t appear to be bristling with the sort of “hostile architecture” we’ve read of in London, England, it’s because they’re not and, to be honest, neither are the majority of the buildings in London.

There have been three reports of steel anti-homeless spikes in the British capitol — a city of some 1,572 km², which is nearly 13 times the size of Vancouver, B.C. (115 km²) and 55 percent the size of the entire Metro Vancouver region (2,877 km²).

Three instances are nothing really but people still get worked up about them because — how should I put it? — it’s the thought that counts.

No one places visible steel spikes on a part of their property to simply keep passers-by off that part of their property, they do it to threaten them: “You try to lay down here and so help me I’ll…”

Here in Vancouver, we have our defensive architecture but it is rarely so  hostile or offensive. Our buildings may be aloof, cool to strangers and certainly many of them are constantly alarmed but rarely do they bristle with the anger and hate displayed by one-inch steel spikes.

Mind you, I haven’t done a tour of the downtown business district for some time; things may have progressed beyond mild anti-skateboard “bump” features installed on low ledges and walls and centrally placed “armrests” on public benches to discourage sleeping.

Defensive architecture as part of the landscape

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Fairview is full of cedar fences and hedge barriers

The Fairview neighbourhood where I spend most of my time is separated from the downtown core by more than just False Creek

There’s little evidence of any siege mentality behind Fairview’s defensive architecture, which runs mostly to fences, gates and natural hedge and rock obstacles.

Fairview property owners are principally concerned with protecting against break-ins but they’re happy to keep out all strangers, period. So the many parking garages that are gated to deter thieves also naturally, without fanfare, deflect rough sleepers and people looking for a dark corner where they can shoot up.

In the last decade, many Fairview buildings have felt forced to gate their garbage areas, largely to deter drive-by dumping of garbage but I’m sure they don’t mind the side benefit of reducing the potential noise and mess caused by some dumpster divers.

These locked-away dumpsters are a rich source of pop cans, in spite of the nails.

These locked-away dumpsters are a rich source of pop cans, in spite of the nails.

In fact, the most offensive example of defensive architecture I can find in Fairview is currently one building manager’s homemade nail barrier topping a locked dumpster enclosure — utterly pointless because the gate and entire west wall of the enclosure have been left nail-free but, like I say, it’s the thought that counts. It brings to mind the “fortress dumpster” another building manager erected two years ago for the same purpose.

A gated building entrance flanked by some agressive-looking bricks.

A gated building entrance flanked by some aggressive-looking bricks.

Fairview certainly has its share of overt locked wrought iron gates and chain link fencing but, for the most part, the neighbourhood’s defensive architecture is meant to inoffensively serve more than one purpose: enhance security, protect privacy, block noise and beautify. Fairview’s defensive architecture is often invisible because it is indistinguishable from landscaping.

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Are these planters blocking a possible sleeping spot near an air vent?

Most of the rock and hedge barrier elements in Fairview are years and decades old and have their counterparts in all other Vancouver neighbourhoods, which is to say what everyone knows, that defensive architecture has really always been a feature of public and private property.

Nobody's losing sleep over these rocks which happen to deter homeless layabouts.

Nobody’s losing sleep over these rocks which deter homeless layabouts.

If anything’s new it’s that the urban landscape may be losing some of its patience and civility with scofflaws.

Some building owners may be thinking that politely asking people to “please do not trespass” no longer cuts it and that they need to stoop to the level of threats because they believe that is the only language “those people” understand.

Such “us and them” thinking leads inexorably to a fortress mentality and the next thing you know, you’re installing one-inch steel spikes and dreaming of moats and alligators.

I hope that Vancouver building owners do not get to feeling so defensive that they start taking such deliberately offensive measures.

You know that a building’s security measures are wrong when they’re intended to make some people feel insecure.

There is such a thing as feel-good defensive architecture

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So far, the closest thing that I can find to the anti-homeless spikes installed in London is a line of vent or grate covers in front of a building in the 2300-block of Cambie Street, on the eastern edge of Fairview.

A frozen visualization of the 24-track recording of one of Lady Gaga's hits (cough).

Like frozen music; a bit overwrought. Wagner perhaps?

The covers are surfaced in unevenly undulating welded wrought iron bars which are clearly meant to keep people from sitting or laying down but, for the life of me, I can’t get offended and I doubt anyone else is offended by them. I actually find them quite attractive and slightly mesmerizing.

Good neighbours don’t mind the few fences they need

Any belief that “weaponizing” architecture with overtly hostile elements can protect people and neighbourhoods from social ills is backward and represents a failure — an abdication of personal responsibility. Only caring people can protect neighbourhoods.

Neighbourhoods are kept safe and livable by engaged residents who care enough to look out for each other — all for all, in fact. By “resident” I mean all the homeowners, renters and street people; everyone who calls the neighbourhood home should look out for each other.

I see enough of that spirit in action in the Fairview neighbourhood to know what I’m talking about. The opposite of a fortress mentality is a truly inclusive sense of community. Click the images to enlarge them.

One Comment
  1. Slowcrow permalink

    Nicely thought through. This should be ‘must reading’ for all city guvmints. ‘Wagner perhaps’…… Perfect, lol. You be a man of many hats, sqwabb. 🙂

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