Clark County

Vancouver renovation may have 'hostile architecture'

VANCOUVER, Wash. (KOIN) -- The City of Vancouver is renovating an area at 6th and C streets that may feature a curved rock wall -- and uneven rock behind it to make it a less appealing place for homeless people to camp or sleep.

The design is part of a concept that's been around for a long time, "maybe even centuries," said Chad Eiken, the director of Community and Economic Development for Vancouver. 

Hostile architecture, as it's called, "has to do with incorporating design elements that maybe discourages behavior that isn't appropriate for the space that is envisioned," he told KOIN 6 News. "You see it, for example, on park benches where there's an armrest right in the middle to discourage sleeping on the benches, or skateboard clips on concrete walls to discourage skateboarding or even spikes that would discourage pigeons."


Eiken said the city does not have a policy to incorporate these type of design elements, but said the idea came up when they talked about ways to improve that entryway to the south end of downtown Vancouver.

The project features a design element of a wall with a Vancouver sign. Eiken said some residents raised the "legitimate question" of whether this design would just encourage people to congregate behind the wall.

"Because of that suggestion, we incorporated some angular rock in the design feature just to make it less attractive of a place to hang out," he said.

The city does have park benches with armrests in the middle, but Eiken said they've been around as long as he's been in Vancouver, "and I've been here about 25 years." He also said "the skateboard clips are pretty ubiquitous all over town."

The city is having some "informal conversations" about using this technique along the waterfront area, including the underpasses that lead there.

"It's not something we would do lightly," he said. "If there's public safety involved, for example the wall that I mentioned, it's a pretty clear cut project where this should be used to discourage pedestrians. It's just not a safe place for them to be."

But Kate Budd, the executive director of the non-profit Council for the Homeless in Clark County, said hostile architecture prohibits a welcoming environment.

"When we're thinking about hostile architecture and people who are without homes, we're really thinking about, like, benches that have a chair rail in the middle of it, so people can't lay down," Budd told KOIN 6 News. "When we're talking about people who are without a home, you know, sometimes that is what they need is just a place to relax and to sit down or lay down for a little while."

This design can unfairly target the homeless, she said. 

"We would much rather be able to put them in some sort of shelter or permanent housing situation, but unfortunately that capacity doesn't exist here in Clark County," she said.

What she'd like to see more than other examples of hostile architecture is a greater civic focus on providing shelter or permanent housing options.

"I think the other key is on the enforcement of our 'no camping' ordinances, that it be enforced regularly throughout the entire city."

Resident Brian Ferdinand, who was walking near the waterfront on his lunch break Monday, said he does see people in tents and sleeping in the area and said it's sometimes hard to walk through the area.

"But," Ferdinand said, "I think the bigger picture is helping the individuals that are camping there and why they are camping there in the first place, instead of necessarily designing the problem away. I think they should address the bigger issue."


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