Built Environment Analysis Final Draft

One of the most substantial issues across the world is homelessness. Not a single country lacks those who are not fortunate enough to have shelter. What differs between countries, and even between states with regards to the U.S., is how these people are treated. Of course, living in public space is going to have a significant impact on these people. For example, if a parade were to be held in the city, then the route would be roped off and the homeless on the street would be forced to leave. This can cause those that are homeless into finding other suitable locations, creating overfilled locations and can be seen as an issue. Displacing the homeless often causes them to be forced to locations that are inhospitable and can also cause them to find difficulty in finding food and can even cause them to starve, among other issues. Some cities are taking measures to combat this, though. Even though some cities are exceptions, for the most part, architects deliberately segregate the homeless, which hurts more than just those without homes, which is problematic.

For example, in Seattle, a new train station is being built. The Judkins Station has already been fully funded and is now waiting for approval from government officials. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately from a different perspective, the officials are concerned about what will become of the homeless population. Train stations are very loud and pose a health risk for people living too close to them, and this train station would be placed in an underpass occupied by many homeless people. The concern isn’t necessarily with where the homeless will go, but instead a concern on how to keep the homeless out of the areas of harmful noise.

The way companies keep the homeless out of their spaces are quite interesting. For example, a bench may be slightly tilted so that it cannot be laid down on (http://www.chinahush.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/20100329busbench02.jpg), or a ledge high enough to sit on may have small spheres put on it so that the homeless can’t sleep there. Another example is benches that have an armrest in the middle(https://vsbrian.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/anti-homeless-park-bench.png), splitting the bench in two, which makes it impossible to lie down on the bench. In the case of the Seattle train station, architects are recommending that boulders be placed on the slant that most homeless people sleep on in order to prevent them from resting there. While not the most malicious form of homeless deterrent, it is most definitely a design that can be seen as deliberate and will be hard to justify.

Another case of homeless being forced out from places they are used to living in comes from Hawaii. A fence is being constructed, and the builders are forcing the homeless to leave. This is questionable, as the construction of a fence isn’t necessarily detrimental to an area and construction should take about a week. In a similar situation in Hawaii, a fence was constructed with the rationale of protecting against weathering, but the real reason may be a bit more malicious. Ever since the fence has been built, homeless people have had difficulty crossing the fence which, in turn, keeps them from the camps they have lived in for years, essentially removing them from years of progress and what they know. Despite all the bad it is doing, the city is taking small steps to try and remedy the situation by offering shuttles to homeless shelters. This shows how the city is not completely unresponsive to the loss experienced by the homeless and is indeed aware of the negative impact of the construction.

The fact that the homeless are excluded from the built environment has a negative impact for all people. For example one of the things many communities do is advocate for bus stops not being added to their areas. This is because, by their logic, it would make it easier for homeless people to come to their areas and possibly stay there, which would, in turn, lower the value of the area. By removing these bus stops, however, they are making it difficult for people with little income and no car to travel to these areas as well, such as people from the working class and even college students. In the case of bus stops, not only are homeless people kept out, but so are people that may be looking for jobs and the children of parents that happen to live in the area as well.

An interesting idea to note is that the US doesn’t outright say that they are attempting to segregate the homeless. All of the techniques used above, for the most part, can be justified for other reasons, but, in reality, are pretty deliberate in their design. In the case of the train station, the boulders being added could be said to have been added to the area for aesthetic reasons, rather than the obvious reason of keeping people off of the slant they are placed on. In the case of the fence, it was already said it was to prevent weathering, however, weathering is something that a fence can’t stop, especially weathering by wind in water. As for the benches that have a divider in the middle so as to prevent people from lying down on them, the designer could claim that the bar in the middle is an armrest, an addition added for comfort rather than stating the ironic real reason of preventing comfort for the homeless.

All of this just helps to contribute to the feeling of invisibility that is ever present in today’s homeless. As people pass them on the streets, they cast their gaze to the side, attempting to avoid eye contact with those they feel will bother them by asking for money. If they initiate conversation, people will often give snippy responses in an attempt to get the homeless away from them as soon as possible. Not only do architects and the government attempt to discriminate against the homeless, but American culture is set up to discriminate against them as well. Throughout culture, many forms of media including film, television, music, and literature often depicts the homeless as needy and more often than not useless. This has caused many people in America to feel the same way about the homeless, even those that have not had an experience with a homeless person.

On the other side of the coin, however, the homeless have gotten more aggressive in recent years. Many times people go on the street and cast glances to the side, the homeless still shout after them and attempt to get their attention, some even cursing when they don’t get what they want. A thread about this was made on a forum for Atlantans (https://www.reddit.com/r/Atlanta/comments/2b7mqr/homeless_people_in_atlanta/), and while not all of the stories may be true, many seem plausible. One user recounts a homeless man running up to them and demanding that they “Give me money for food”. Another recounts a homeless person used the excuse of a broken down car three days in a row in order to ask for thirty dollars near the Georgia State University campus. Another still claims that they were physically assaulted by a homeless man on the Georgia Tech campus. Countless other users chimed in saying that the problem has most definitely gotten worse in recent years. Some moved to other states and come back to Atlanta, some have stayed in Atlanta, and some have even just recently moved to Atlanta, but their voices all say the same thing, that the homeless have definitely gotten more aggressive.

One way or another, a solution needs to be provided for the homeless in Atlanta. Whether or not one has been in contact with them or has just heard about them, they are very clearly a huge issue in the city. One problem that is absolutely detrimental to those looking for homes is gentrification. Gentrification is essentially when older buildings are made more modern, which, in turn, makes them more expensive to live in. Atlanta has one of the highest rates of gentrification in any city in the U.S, with buildings being revitalized constantly. This causes the homeless to be even further from being able to afford shelter, as well as hurting the common person by forcing them to pay a higher rent, causing some to have to move out and become homeless. A proposed solution would be to take some of the older abandoned buildings that litter the downtown area, such as the old Atlanta Constitution building. By creating more homeless shelters, the homeless will have a place to go and hopefully help them get back on their feet, and the repurposing of an older building will likely slow gentrification. Unfortunately, this solution does come with its fair share of flaws, as one homeless shelter is not enough, and slowing gentrification is definitely not the same as stopping it altogether. Whether more homeless shelters are built or not, a solution for this problem most definitely needs to be found, lest more people become homeless at the hands of gentrification.

Homelessness is a major issue in Atlanta, not only in the fact that they live on the streets but in the sense that those very streets discriminate against them, a form of segregation that needs to end immediately.

 

Sources:

(http://www.honolulutraffic.com/WSJhomeless.pdf)

(http://mynorthwest.com/388477/homeless-concerns-for-judkins-station/)

(http://www.clatl.com/news/article/13071161/homeless-in-atlanta-hiding-in-plain-sight)

(http://www.atlantadowntown.com/article/can-feeding-the-homeless-be-a-bad-idea)

(http://www.hawaiinewsnow.com/story/31330270/fence-along-kapalama-canal-keeping-homeless-out)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.