A park bench seems like the most neutral object in the world. You sit, you gaze out at the scenery, maybe feed a few ducks, then go about your business. Well, benches are generally designed with less benign intentions.
Twitter user Isaac Azuelos shared a picture of a bench painted in a rainbow, commenting, "When you're inclusive but still hate the poor."
What's he talking about? The arms on benches are generally added at intervals that discourage people from being able to sleep on them, as a way to deter homeless people from resting there. He also seems to be implying that the rainbow is in the colors of the LGBTQ flag. They're not, actually, but it's still a cheerful coating a depressing object.
It's not just arms—all sorts of outdoor seating arrangements have additions that make it uncomfortable if not downright impossible to lay down, as people shared in the replies:
The practice is known as hostile design, and there is a lot of documentation about it, especially from activists who believe the practice is dehumanizing and wrong:
Azuelos didn't expect the tweet to go viral, but it caused quite a storm.
Eventually, the space where the bench was set up reached out to him to explain why the bench was in place—it was donated as is, they didn't weigh in on design decisions.
But Azuelos had more to say about how design is used to exclude and push people to further to the fringes of society in public spaces:
He shared other examples of benches and stones placed under an overhead that would make it uncomfortable to rest or camp out.
A lot of people have apparently never considered that homeless people might deserve a place to rest without harassment or discomfort:
Some homeless people cause problems that's why benches like this exist.— I dislike the current American govt. (@Lots47) May 13, 2018
I think the point is that society tells them theyre a problem & shuns them from public spaces but that doesn't solve the issue just pushes it out of sight. 🐇maybe by treating homeless people like humans they can actually progress rather than be a ' problem '.— Prudence Kevorkian (@PrincessPruK) May 13, 2018
Doesn't even look effective. Looks like a person could fit in the rings.— Markus Wegener (@crur1) May 13, 2018
I mean, in order to fit between *those* rings you'd have to be astoundingly malnourished, so they're practically marked "homeless only" and I'm sad now— ♪♫ all my #brands are dead ♪♫ (@massedriver) May 13, 2018
ever thought about old people who need something to hold on to to get up and down? Pretty sure it's rather for them then against homeless people slepping there.— charly (@oxytocinated) May 13, 2018
So every park bench design should have the prerequisite that it must accommodate people who want to sleep on them?— Lainey B (@lainey1808) May 14, 2018
These are designed specifically to prevent tired people from laying down on them. It’s a feature, not a bug. Don’t act like it’s an innocent byproduct of a legitimate design need.— ThisMicah (@ThisMicah) May 14, 2018
I like park bench arms. It stops that person from sitting a little too close to you when you are having a lunctime sandwich— Simon (@Simoncork87) May 14, 2018
But many other people had more examples and stories to share about how this type of design has changed city landscapes:
Santa Monica replaced all their bus benches with no side, no back stools. Then after disability rights back lash replaced them again with single chairs with backs and sides. Now tired families just stand and the homeless sleep on the ground in the nearby bushes 🙄— Nancy (@Uncollaborative) May 13, 2018
My city has similar things—they even put up spikes on the sides of the road because they don’t want homeless people sleeping there (it “scares away tourism”)— s (@hometownsyd) May 14, 2018
It makes me sick, we have one of the highest concentrations of homeless in the country and the city hates them so much
They’ve also passed new laws where you can’t exchange food in public, an attempt to get people to stop giving homeless people food— s (@hometownsyd) May 14, 2018
The moral of the bench story seems to be that people's compassion for the homeless often only extends until it becomes an inconvenience to them.
So think about that the next time you take a seat.