City DopeNews

Commissioners Declare War on Hostile Architecture

Three examples of downtown Athens benches designed to prevent sleeping. Courtesy of Athens-Clarke County

Athens-Clarke County commissioners are discussing how things as simple as benches can make downtown more inviting.

“Hostile architecture” or “defensive design” is “designed to exclude or restrict certain groups of people,” mostly the homeless, teenagers, skateboarders and “other undesirable individuals,” according to Randy Sorensen, an urban planner and landscape architect with Jacobs Engineering.

For example, benches in downtown Athens have armrests in the middle, which make them impossible to lie down on. Other examples include spikes on window sills and ledges or boulders in public gathering spaces.

“All of these are attempts to solve urban design issues without addressing the core problem. They tend to sanitize public spaces such that they deter inclusivity,” Sorensen said at an Apr. 13 work session. “It’s important that you create an inclusive destination that’s a friendly environment for all, not just a small group.”

Cities should provide a wide variety of seating options for people-watchers, lovers looking for solitude, waiting bus riders, socializers, diners, individuals without housing looking for a place to sleep and people who simply want to lounge in the sun, Sorensen said. “Putting people first in the design process will result in vibrant downtown streetlife—a place everyone likes to go,” he said.

Some people, such as the elderly, like armrests on benches, though, Sorensen said, and commissioners should keep in mind that the population is getting older.

Commissioners agreed they’d like to remove the armrests from most of the benches downtown and provide a greater variety of seating.

The commission also heard a presentation about a future Macon Highway water trail site from Leisure Services Assistant Director Mel Cochran Davis. The project consists of a parking lot off Macon Highway, a walkway to the Middle Oconee River and a launch ramp for canoes, kayaks and other non-motorized boats. SPLOST 2020 includes $470,000 for the project, but a federal Land and Water Conservation Fund grant could pay for half. ACC also has a public boat access site upstream at Ben Burton Park, completed in 2016.