Defensive Architecture: A Crossroads of Space, Social Power and Law

“A space without social (and legal) meaning is simply a location…much of social space represents a materialization of power, and much of law consists in highly significant and specialized descriptions and prescriptions of the same power.” (Blomley, xix)

It’s becoming more and more apparent in cities of today that spaces, both natural and built, are being re-imagined to serve purposes other than encouraging the social gathering of people. What is even more striking is that city officials and hired architects and planners are then taking these revised ideas of social places and actually creating them. As I read the stories popping up over the internet of places where ‘defensive architecture’ is utilized as a way to discourage loitering and homeless inhabitants, I can’t help but think about the inherent injustice within this ideology and construction. Not to mention that these places which once were used by humans for a multitude of purposes, along with the many unintended uses that arose, will now significantly be lessened. The most popular example right now is the latest installation of metal spikes on the grounds in front of a flat in London, where homeless dwellers would typically take up residence for resting and sleeping.

Photo Credit: Metal studs outside private flats on Southwark Bridge Road, London. Photograph: Guy Corbishley/Demotix/Corbis

This is happening all over the world- everyday there are spaces in our cities that are being redesigned with the intention to make some sort of statement. That’s the key point here- What statement? Because we’re being exposed to so much on a daily basis, we experience a sense of numbing to the issues that seem more routine, almost normalized (this is the environmental psychology). We all know that what may sound and look great on paper does not always work to our best intentions in reality. Building up a downtown center with high-rises, parking lots, and no public spaces sounded great for business but not-so-much for the people that make those businesses run. So where is the consideration for the fellow human when it’s time to develop an idea to reduce the presence of homeless people or loiterers? Homeless people, loitering teens and adults, these are still people. Why is the idea to remove them, extinguish them, make them appear less as if they aren’t even there? The quote at the beginning of the post has stuck with me since I read it over a month ago, and I thought fit with this issue of environmental psychology and defensive architecture. Spaces are not just empty, and how they are designed is not done blindly but with intention and have deeper meanings and implications than what may seem apparent. Every space and place, rich and lush or struggling and dicrepit, has inherent social, political and legal meaning. How that space is managed and utilized, how it’s perceived, establishes and reinforces its value- both in monetary but also in socio-political. The law and the policies that are often validated by law, are all wrapped up by the enveloping blanket of power, which can then choose to share warmth with those of certain social powers while leaving the less socially valuable out in the cold.

Alex Andreou shares:

“Defensive architecture is revealing on a number of levels, because it is not the product of accident or thoughtlessness, but a thought process. It is a sort of unkindness that is considered, designed, approved, funded and made real with the explicit motive to exclude and harass. It reveals how corporate hygiene has overridden human considerations, especially in retail districts. It is a symptom of the clash of private and public, of necessity and property.”

As a mindful planner, my first thought is that instead of repeating our past when it comes to the redesigning of cities and public spaces within them, we must instead approach the situation from a place of compassion and try to see the many problems that are intertwined so tight. When we think of a city and choose to see it as dirty and nearly dead, we’re only seeing it through a myopic lens, and we’re choosing to refuse the good qualities and value that are also present. Sometimes you have to think a bit harder or look from a different angle. Rather than seeing a bus stop as just a place where bums sleep, we need to see the bigger picture and consider the other uses and roles that this bus stop serves. For instance, it’s a bus stop, so it’s useful to those people that take the bus. Since often times people arrive earlier to wait for the bus, there is usually a lag period of time where other people will walk by or stop to rest and/or wait at the stop, and can often be a time where conversations and news are exchanged. Also, if the bus stop has a roof, it serves as a weather shelter for not just bus-users but also those who are homeless. Some bus stops are revitalized to display art, offer Wi-Fi, or just share information. There are many purposes that a bus stop serves and if we only choose to look at one problem with the stop, which is a place but also has significant effects on the many humans that use this stop, than we are being selectively ignorant to the social and political implications. If instead we approach the “homelessness issue” from a place of compassion- instead of attempting to oust the problem as our first reaction, we can instead think of the many possible approaches and attempt to offer solutions that are not only realistic but also more just. Planners, architects, designers, officials, anyone in a position of social power, needs to consider the repercussions and actual human lives that are affected by these less-than-mindful designs. It’s not about the place, it’s about the people. I believe that when we begin to lose the real meaning of why we build and create the places we do, then we lose our connections and our ability to empathize with other humans lessens.


Mindfulness Check-In 2/9/14: Routines

Well, another Monday snowed in! This snow just won’t quit, and yet another Monday missed of classes and other things to be busy about. Actually, I’m still really busy, just not the “in your face, running around busy” and more like the “I’m thinking of the 80 things I need to do today regardless of the snow day”.

So I realized that this past week I did not write a single post on my blog dedicated to planning. I usually try to write at least 1-2 planning resource posts a week, but this past week that didn’t happen. This entire week seemed to have just been a whirlwind of going from place to place, jumping from one thing to the next. Honestly with all of these snow days and then traveling through the snow to places, I’ve actually lost more time than I think I’ve gained. And it’s thrown me off my rhythm. I know that last week’s Mindfulness post celebrated the time that we have to slow down, which I still think is valuable. My posts are not meant to lead you on, and definitely not meant to be just flaky pieces of fake advice. Taking time to watch the snow fall and sip your tea is super important (or whatever it is that you do when you practice mindfulness). But this post is no about hating on snow days, it’s about getting off of your routine.

For me, I thrive with routines. Yes it’s nice every once in a while to have a day “to do nothing”, but even then I usually find that hard to not fill up with at least a few things. I’ve got everything in my Google calendar that requires me to be somewhere, including when I’m having breakfast, leaving my house, and working out. It helps me stay accountable, and also not feel like I’m spinning in a bunch of directions and not getting anything done.

Like this! Courtesy of

And so I need routines for most things in my life so that I don’t feel like the person above! With all of these snow days, it’s really taken a toll on my ability to stick with my routines that I’ve developed. It’s not like a snow day happens and I think to myself “Now I don’t have to eat healthy!” or “Now I don’t have to write that post!” No, but it definitely becomes more intriguing to take things slower than usual and that can mess with a routine that functions on timing and planning in blocks of scheduled work. Add on commuting in snowy conditions and that makes for a more of a mess when you get home and try to do all the things that on a regular day would fit in just fine. This sounds more like a rant so I’m gonna stop there. The point though is that I had a moment of realization today when thinking why I hadn’t written a post, why I hadn’t practiced my yoga as much, and why I may still be getting so many headaches.  I was off of my routine!

Part of being mindful means doing what feels good for us, recognizing when to stop if something does not feel good with us, and it’s also a practice- which means that even after a month of routine, you can still fall off the bandwagon. When I stopped today to notice all of the 80 or so things running through my mind, I thought about how it was making me feel. Then it led me down the dimly lit path towards what really was causing that moment of swirling anxiety; I was completely off balance from not following my usual schedules and practices. Despite all of the other things I know I need to be doing, at this moment in time I’m choosing to write this post, and that feels GREAT! I’ve been waiting all week to write more, and only now have finally just given myself time to acknowledge my anxiety and get back to what I need- my balanced routine. From Google definitions:

  1. an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady.

My weights are my commitments and things I am accountable to, and if those are not in an even distribution, I am not upright and steady. If something is taking longer than usual or more of me than I typically expect, I notice and it’s mostly uncomfortable. This is because it’s out of what we’re used to. It’s not bad, though it may make us have a negative feeling or reaction. But remember, it’s often when we’re most uncomfortable that we also experience the most growth! This leads back to the point of my blog, Productive Discomfort. You’ve sometimes just gotta experience what you don’t like, or maybe are scared of, so that you can reflect later and notice your growth and ability to come out of the experience with dignity. So even though this last week I did not write as much as I would have liked, and I felt a bit “off”, I came out of this experience with reflections, insight and a deeper commitment to my practice of mindfulness and routines. Happy Monday!

PS, I challenged myself to write this post without going onto any other website to distract myself (other than Google for the definition and picture for my post). This was uncomfortable since I’m used to stopping at other sites along through my work, but I made it through and published a post I feel happy about. YAY productivity!

Mindfulness Check-In 2/2/14: Snowy Day Thoughts

Some quick updates of the last week since my last post:

  1. I am still having migraines almost daily, and am trying to decipher what may be triggering them.
  2. I realized that even on Super Bowl Sunday, I cannot abandon my dietary restrictions, because it just brings me unnecessary bodily suffering.
  3. I still have been exercising and doing some form of yoga or meditation daily- my heels almost touch the ground in downward dog!
  4. It’s the second snow day of second semester!

After reflecting on my updates and past happenings at this current moment, the word that comes to mind is progress. At this moment, I am feeling nervous, sore, tired, and a bit overwhelmed. I am noticing the snow that is falling sideways outside, with no intentions of stopping until late into the night. I’m noticing how that dull ache which never seems to fully diminish is now present in back of my eyes and at my temples. I hear the murmur of the fish tank and tapping of the keyboard, and the humming of the plows outside. I am noticing how every time I think about breathing, my chest actually feels a little tighter, which then reminds me to inhale deeper the next time and let out a loud exhale. I slowly sip my Eggnog tea and hear how it sounds as I swallow. I’m deliberately working on being intentional and “in the moment”. I don’t necessarily have positive feelings towards all of the things I’m noticing, but I also have a beautiful choice.

I can choose how I want to engage with what is happening around me. I can choose to be grateful for my yoga practice and despite my body feeling what it feels, I still have an overall healthy body that allows me to exercise or practice yoga at all! I’m working diligently at tracking how my body feels, and noticing how to use my breath to guide my thoughts, movement, and reactions to my pain. Despite how Super Bowl food makes my body feel, I am grateful for the experience of cooking for my friends and sharing food with them, and that I even had food to cook, especially before the week began. And lastly, despite that my brain feels at points like it’s trying to run in opposite directions, I am still here, writing this post. I have this wonderful snow day and was lucky enough to not have to travel my usual 30 minute drive to my University today and jeopardize safety (and sanity). I was allowed more time to work on things that need to be worked on, things I want to do, and to just exist in whatever form I would like today. I’m sitting here now and after a moment realized I had been flexing my foot for at least 10 seconds. I’m making progress!

It’s not about the deadline for me because mindfulness is an ongoing practice. I’m usually the person that tries to accomplish everything on time, as efficiently as possible. But with mindfulness I can’t rush it, and I can’t necessarily finish it. All I can do is practice it and continue to show up and give whatever I can give each day, each moment. I have made progress on my goals, and I will continue to progress with my practice. I hope wherever you are, you can take a moment just to stop and notice what you’re thinking (or not), and how your body feels, what it’s doing, and what you see, smell, hear, taste, touch around you! The best thing about practicing mindfulness for me is the honesty. I can just be honest with myself and don’t have to pretend that everything is great just because it’s a snow day. I can just be what I feel and how I think, and don’t necessarily have to like it but can acknowledge it and let those feelings just sit there as they are- I don’t have to engage with them if I don’t want to! And if I do, I can catch myself in the moment and reflect on if my behavior is helping me or causing me increased suffering. I have the power to determine my own progress!

Here’s a picture I took today of my backyard in the woods. Though I haven’t trekked outside yet, it sure is a peaceful site.

If you look really close at the ground you can see how high the snow is!

If you look really close at the ground you can see how high the snow is!