Why cities are full of uncomfortable benches

Why cities are full of uncomfortable benches

That bench won’t be yours forever.

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When designing urban spaces, city planners have many competing interests to balance. After all, cities are some of the most diverse places on the planet. They need to be built for a variety of needs.

In recent years, these competing interests have surfaced conflict over an unlikely interest: purposefully uncomfortable benches.

Enter the New York City MTA. They’ve installed ‘leaning bars’ to supplement traditional benches & save platform space. But designs like this carry an often invisible cost: they rob citizens of hospitable public space. And the people who experience this cost most directly are those experiencing homelessness.

A few notes of thanks:

First to Historian A. Roger Ekirch who kindly got me up to speed on the expansion of streetlights in historic western city districts.

Another thanks goes to author Veronica Harnish, who outlined some of the pitfalls that people experiencing homelessness face when choosing between sleeping rough or utilizing emergency shelters. You can read her blog here: http://car-living.blogspot.com/

A third thank you goes to the staff at the Unites States Interagency Council on Homelessness — they supplied the map in this video, as well as some aggregate statistics of the United States homeless population. Those numbers come from a variety of annual ‘Point-In-Time’ counts. The 2018 event will take place in late January, and the process depends on volunteers — so if you’d like to participate, you can find your local organizer here: https://www.hudexchange.info/grantees/find-a-grantee/?state=&program=on&coc=on&params=%7B%22limit%22%3A20%2C%22sort%22%3A%22%22%2C%22years%22%3A%5B%5D%2C%22searchTerm%22%3A%22%22%2C%22dir%22%3A%22%22%2C%22grantees%22%3A%5B%5D%2C%22state%22%3A%22%22%2C%22programs%22%3A%5B3%5D%2C%22coc%22%3Atrue%7D##granteeSearch

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110 Responses

  1. Sean Kethcart says:

    Vox asking them hard hitting questions.

    • typheran1 says:

      Sean Kethcart it’s better than them lying which happens when they cover real news.

    • DefenestrateYourself says:

      Saying them hard hitting comments.

    • 100% Accu-RAT says:

      What about hard sitting questions?

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  2. Isthecakereallyalie says:

    Ah yes, designs against homeless people.

  3. Polo 10k says:

    It’s sad that while people are homeless in a big city and can’t even have a nice place to sleep and it’s intentional.

    • James Russell says:

      Pietro Smusi They should probably turn to their local church or temple for some assistance, as that is kind of their thing.

    • FL33T WOOD says:

      You people are fking idiots, obviously never has much interactions with homeless people.

      I’ve hooped with some hobos and knew a couple by name over time. 1 was a “neighbor”, another passed around my back alley every month, a few walking around in my neighborhoods.

      – Never felt threaten(not to say they aren’t dangerous),
      – Some literally never want a job even if you attempt to assist
      – My manager offered a hobo a job because he showed up every day early to ask for bottles…. *Attendance is Important* but the fker denied, so my manager was pissed and denied him bottles ???
      – Some are perfectly capable of a job, but they don’t give a fk…….including 1 guy who’s mom visits him once a month in her Mercedes-Benz.

      Stop trying to make yourselves feel good, by giving stupid “solutions.” You are all simply ignoring the actual problem of being HOMELESS.

    • Jakoto says:

      There are shelters in those cities. Some either don’t go because they don’t feel safe or choose not to. However, public benches are meant for the public and is temporary.

    • Jakoto says:

      I don’t see how what he said is “liberal”.

    • Jakoto says:

      +Anodyne Melody I see what you’re saying but eventually this is extremely detailed to be applied to every homeless person people come across. Heck, what you wrote takes over 10 minutes to think about, way too long for anyone confronted with a decision within the moment.

      As for the explanation, it loses its sentiment when you see the same people in the same area for a year. The overall goal is to make homelessness temporary. Accommodations for homeless should be done while keeping in mind the use of public spaces. You don’t want to encourage a conflict where a bus stop bench is occupied for weeks depriving other users from resting. On top of that, poor hygiene while it can’t be helped, encourages other bad smells and pest to occur. So the city needs to encourage the homeless to move into public shelter where they can get access to resources to improve their health and life while maintaining the health of the public space.

  4. Ambassador says:

    came to hate stayed to understand

  5. Abinash Basabanuja says:

    This channel is destined to be on of the best, you guys are really good

  6. Jay Kay says:

    I like videos such as this one.

  7. MsAsh3070 says:

    Homeless people have to sleep somewhere as well. Their lives are difficult enough without making it any worse.

    • William says:

      The the answer is strictly to build more shelters and provide better care and protection within them, not to make public benches the glorified beds of the poor.

    • jeffery allen says:

      give em a pallet on your floor

    • Dragon_12dk says:

      Chris Beaudoin Shelter space is not as hard to get as you think, they do have strict rules and times you have to show up / leave, but these are things that they need to coup with. In Seattle I had asked a number of people why they did not go to the shelter, and they never said anything about a lack of availability, rather it was that they did not wish to be under the strict rules of the facility.

    • Yoferil says:

      No thier lives are easy, they don’t work.

  8. Komyomyomyom ymyomyom says:

    I’ll still accomplish falling asleep on them. No place is safe from my naps.

  9. Yashiteru says:

    if this goes on nyc will end up like Rio de Janeiro. A big, thick wall separating they rich from the poor. rich part seems nice and normal, but the poor side is a neglect human dumpster that the government “doest know what to do with” but hide it.

    • Crick Nompton says:

      You know, maybe civilized people don’t want poors begging for food, damaging their property, peeing in the streets

    • RoScFan says:

      Roger Allan who likes paying rent and bills? Nobody. People shouldnt really need to work, or at least not so much.

    • RadLight Gamma says:

      Yet I don’t feel that is the kind of society we live in, I feel we have ALOT of people who have been brought up to spend their money on the wrong things yet expect to fall into homes, good careers etc.

    • RadLight Gamma says:

      Yet if you do not like the position you are in you can change, you are free to motivate yourself and change career progression – you are not locked into a career.

      Extreme poverty would not cover people on even minimum wage in the UK.

      You might not have directly referred to it but you certainly alluded to socialism – you’re oozing it and the way you’re gushing over more socialist minded states, deary me… You’re really suckered in aren’t you?

      I do realise I am lucky to be in the nation I was born into – however I do not believe I owe those who are unwilling to work a life, I dislike the fact that vast sums of my money pays for people who will do nothing but detract from the state, the NHS, policing, criminal justice systems etc – I worked my way up through hard work and graft, you frankly read as someone who was born into a much higher privilege of life than me (studying abroad, I wonder what opportunities you have had thrown your way, far more than my own I imagine.)

      The system I was born into allowed me to progress up the chain into the very well paid career I have found myself a part of.

      People who are working class (proper working class, as in out earning a living) are afforded the benefit of bettering themselves if they choose to, if they are unable to either motivate themselves or upgrade their skill sets required for progression then so be it, what can be done? They will remain in the career they found themselves a part of.

      Take your privilege somewhere else, your ideas will lead us down a very dark path indeed and frankly are very dangerous.

  10. Waltrr says:

    It’s sad to see that rather than fixing the problem, people only want to make the problem more invisible.

  11. Salokin says:

    Lifes most important questions

  12. dmndsol says:

    Should have called this video Class Warfare Strategies.

    • Cory Mck says:

      dmndsol they should have called it “Unpleasant Design & Hostile Urban Architecture” that’s what _99 percent invisible_ called it when they aired this episode last year.

    • DeclaringPond 22 says:

      Cory Mck Because its still happening? John oliver made a video on the fcc and net neutrality 3 years ago, he made another one a few months ago about the fcc again because they were trying to repeal net neutrality.

    • Cory Mck says:

      I’m not sure what you mean, Urban Design is always “happenning”. But it seems like Vox does a large number of videos on topics that Roman Mars already did.

  13. Geomel Quijencio-Kramer says:

    It is a shame, how Urban planning, a discipline that affects all of our lives, is often so forgotten. Which is why I am so thankful, that Vox regularly showcases the best and the worst of it, as is with many other issues to do with modern life.

  14. whydoievenbothertoputthishere says:

    its so hobos dont sleep on them :i old news cmon vox do better

  15. VCG Construction says:

    I live in Philly and it’s exactly the same here, plus I skateboard and the knobs they put on the marble suck.

    • Crick Nompton says:

      VCG Construction The knobs are actually good. Civilized people don’t need punk kids skateboarding around, grinding up the nice marble

    • Dan - says:

      you do that, and what is the response gonna be? you’re gonna get hit. remember, skateboards have metal trucks, which im sure would hurt more than anything youd be carrying on a random day, and most boarders are only douchebags because thats what everyone expects and they themselves act like the douchebags. Maybe be nice any you can see how chill we are, we might even tell you a cool story.

    • Dan - says:

      Personally i always be as nice as i can untill someone provokes me, i.e taking up the entire sidewalk with your family/ friends when you cna see me coming and i call out. Ive said before to others that i used to think all skaters were douches for no reason, then i learned: (most of) The ones that are douches are probably just sick and tired of others rudeness. (though i know some skaters that are just rich douchbags anyway but thats a couple people vs the 20 or so skate/longboarders i know)

    • Rasta Buritos says:

      Skateboarding is an escape from poverty and issues, and you guys are treating the solution like an issue smh

    • mezsh says:

      Skateboarding requires a lot of skill, and athleticism, it keeps a lot of people out of trouble, and out of their houses, it can be a catharsis and a bloody good workout and andrenaline rush at the same time, what’s not to like?

  16. DOOT DOOT says:

    _”We should take the homeless people and push them somewhere else!”_ – Patrick Star

  17. Sabina Hertzum says:

    I don’t get why urban planning isn’t planning for the people who live in the space – if homeless people are a problem, why not design a space for them to go – shelters are, as vox states, not always a viable solution – why not make multiple solutions that don’t interfere with other things… like set aside a small section of a park for a shelter with cubicles that are usable at night only… it boggles the mind that a problem that is so big in the scope of things only gets tackled by trying to prevent the people it involves from using a public space….
    why not make it a priority to get the homeless somewhere to go – somewhere where they are not in the way….
    we always see alleys with cardboard homes in the movies – if that’s a true representation, then why not make some movable shelters that are big enough to sleep in, for one or two people ( some people have dogs too)… it could be metal, plastic or even fiberglass – if they are a permanent fixture and out of the way, then it would solve a lot of issues…
    maybe it would create others, but that’s for others to puzzle out – I just think it would be better for homeless people to have a space to go, where they are welcome and on their own terms…

    • Sabina Hertzum says:

      FL33T WOOD – if you read the idea I haven’t said anything about ‘setting aside part of a park’ I was talking about making a shelter in the corner of a park property, enclosed and with a completely separate entrance…
      There is no reason to think that it would be more dangerous just because there’s a shelter..
      And not all homeless are addicts..

      It seems like for every thing I mention the one who is apposed are only seeing it from one POV, that being the most illogical to the concept…

      There are spaces I’m very big city that could be converted to homeless shelters easily and for less money than it would cost trying to clean it up…

      And yes a metal box wouldn’t be comfortable, but it could be dry and relatively safe…. one of the biggest and most time consuming things for homeless are trying to stay safe, warm and fed… if the city could provide a spot to sleep that is sheltered, without any strings attached, it would free up their time to get warm and fed…. and just maybe it’s uncomfortable enough to not stay in forever, but safe enough to stay in to get on their feet again….

    • Sydney Marie says:

      + This comment – so much! Homeless people need homes above everything else. I wish there were more organizations that prioritized that. The idea that so many people are working to just keep them away, keep them out of site, make it even more uncomfortable to exist – makes me sick. Humans have to be better than this. We have to take care of each other if we want our society to thrive.

    • Frankie Smith says:

      givememore4free Homeless people need places to live, sweetie,

    • Scriptminer says:

      Sabina Hertzum I see what you’re saying , and agree with a lot of it, but in my view, if a city has a problem with homeless people – they really should do something about it, rather than simply hiding them. Remember how all the world got so angry with Rio for those concrete walls covering the slums? I think we should be careful not to fall into the same trap; but I suppose it is walking a fine line, and finding a balance can be quite difficult: to build shelters would mean to admit there was a problem, whereas to build defensive architecture is just covering it up.

    • Code Red says:

      They’ve done studies and they’ve found the most cost effective way of dealing with the homeless problem… is giving homeless people houses. Homeless people cost so much money in medical expenses and the inefficient shelter system it’s cheaper overall. Plus if people have a house they can find it easier to get a job and put money into the economy.

      They give people flats sometimes in England. The system is still very very far away from perfect but it’s better than nothing. The problem is that in the short term giving people houses is expensive. And politicians are only in power for four years. So it’s not in their interest to actually work at making things better.

  18. YepItsThatGuy says:

    I personally don’t like for example that we have spikes in front many of London’s shop fronts, in alcoves, side streets and even in some shared spaces such as parks. It’s so easy to blame urban planners and governing authorities for these hostile constructions it’s been shown that it’s a select few people that don’t like the homeless and are deterred from entering particular shops, and using certain public spaces such as parks. More importantly it’s those involved in the private sector like store-owners etc. that generally feel that their businesses will be negatively affected by the presence of homeless people surrounding the area. It’s the negative, hostile attitudes of the general public and private sector towards the homeless which puts pressure on city planners to increase anti-comfort infrastructure and it’s our job to try and correct these attitudes.

    • coreycox2345 says:

      Truth, Earla Weese. The situation is obscene.

    • Crick Nompton says:

      YepItsThatGuy the homeless have shelters built for them. If they need a place to stay, they can go there. They shouldn’t be in public, begging for change, bothering the civilized

    • Crick Nompton says:

      Nekrochomikon8 Amen

    • Adam Willis says:

      Problem is homeless people drive away customers from businesses in the area and everyone suffers because of that. I’m sure if the general public loved homeless people as much as they say, business owners would fetch them a chair, pour them a cup of tea, and make them a permanent fixture.

    • Jonathan Rouse says:

      YepItsThatGuy I see it as the tax homeless people get for not having to pay monthly for an apartment tbh

  19. MLG Potato says:

    I didn’t saw the video but lemme guess: so people cant sit or sleep on them for too long

  20. whanowa says:

    It’s sad that spikes are used to keep homeless people away the same way they’re used to fend off birds.

    • Ian Mak says:

      Its nice to find people who want to defend social justice however a lot of homeless people are not the victims you make them out to be.

      A minority are people in a rough spot who got kicked out of their house and need a place to stay to sort their life out.

      However a large portion of homeless people are just flat out crazy drug addicts or lazy people who don’t want to deal with the stress of working. You can find some documentaries interviewing homeless people and many of them simply don’t want to find a job ever. Its hard to help people who don’t want to help themselves.

    • DeclaringPond 22 says:

      Ian Mak Thats not even true. I bet the documentary was paided for by one of the main companies that tries to get rid of them. Most people are homeless because like you said have mental health problems and couldn’t get a job. Some are vets who never got help after wars. Some just couldn’t afford to live in that area and now can’t even move out of state. They become drug addicts because they have nothing else to do. They have no family, no friends, nothing that would make them think twice before taking in drugs. We spend more money on trying to get rid of homeless people, than trying to get rid of homelessness.

    • Scriptminer says:

      DeclaringPond 22 Very, very well said. It’s always comforting to see people who show empathy when everyone else seems to be showing hatred.

    • RoScFan says:

      James Russell YOU should be dealt with

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