I was sincerely shocked by this news. You may be thinking of me as a naive fellow, yet I was not ready at all. Well I did already know that this kind of “policies” (I shall try to explain below why I term them “policies”) were practised in Brazil since a couple of decades (see Simone Frangella’s work, for instance). And everybody knows about Mike Davis’ chronicles from the City of Quartz, anti-homeless tactics (like that nice behaviour of fortifying garbage bins of restaurants), and the like.
Yet, as a Eurocentric European (we may write a lot about de-colonising our culture, but we live in our context, don’t we?), I was still shocked reading about anti-homeless, one-inch studs installed outside central London blocks of flats. I was shocked by the simple fact that there is no laws prohibiting such a kind of behaviours, that is, treating other people as pigeons. I mean, I do not expect everybody having the same ideal of mankind I have. I do expect institutional systems to forbid anti-human behaviours. Apparently, this is not the case.
And, as a former architect and a planner, I am deeply concerned by how these behaviours may become micro-policies (hence micro-politics) of public space, before we notice they did – something Mike Davis has told about in Los Angeles. And I therefore think that the scale of urban planning and urban design may be the proper scale in order to face the problems underlying this kind of “policies” (if we are willing to).
I see two points here. The first is going “back to basic”, that is facing the reasons that bring growing number of persons to live in the streets, and facing them from our perspective. Alex Marsh, in a very good post about recent debates about housing in the UK, suggests that ‘“Planning” is more importantly a shorthand for local political priorities’. And beyond local scale, I would say, for it’s at the scale of planning that national policies create effects (and even nuisances).
But there’s a second, in my opinion inavoidable, point. Are willing to (re?)build that sense of mutual support that has led to the creation of cities? If so, it is the time for planners, urbanists, and all people interested in cities from a professional or political perspective, to understand that the behaviour of treating other people as pigeons is something that should concern them: we should try to understand why and, more importantly. we should try to understand how we can build cities were all people consider other people as people.
And we should try to understand how cities may ban all behaviours that treat people as other from people.