Out on one of my many excursions in Atlanta, more specifically Downtown Atlanta, I noticed that there were a lot of homeless people. I think the city I have seen them in the most in Texas has been Austin, but more so begging for money at intersections. Other than that, I have only seen them in abundance in Mexico in the city centers. There, they are mostly women and children so it makes you feel even worse. Actually, now that I think of it, I didn’t see homeless women and children in Downtown Atlanta; just men. Some even seemed to be crazy on top of being homeless.
What am I getting at with this? Well, there is a public space I mentioned in an earlier post that was designed by a firm I went to interview with. It’s not too far away from the firm as well as a couple of major universities, such as Georgia Tech. And, not because it was a great multi-use space with dining and shopping or that there seemed to be a lot of people using it from businessmen to college students to commuters coming from the metro station across the street, but because as soon as it got dark it seemed to clear and turn into one of the most shady places I have ever seen; like night and day. And yes, the homeless would start to move in. And not just in this space, but also in a nearby public plaza in front of government buildings and sidewalks. Needless to say, it did not make me want to get out of the car and further explore.
But the homeless have every right to use these public spaces just as much as the rest of us, do they not? Public space is a “social space such as a town square that is open and accessible to all, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, age or socio-economic level” (Wikipedia). On the other hand, we all know their presence doesn’t make us feel comfortable, especially at night. So how do we, as Landscape Architects, along with other design disciplines, solve this issue? Cities, such as San Francisco, have even gone as far as removing benches completely to discourage the homeless from sleeping there, as well as designing the benches in such a way that it would be uncomfortable if not impossible for a person to lay on it. This may have worked to keep the homeless away from sleeping on the benches, but they simply found other things to sleep on in the same public space. Other issues also arose from this solution. People wanting to just sit and enjoy their lunch or meet with someone could not do so anymore. And when design was not enough, laws have been enacted to combat the problem. In Orlando, for example, an ordinance was passed to prohibit people from lying on park benches. What’s next? Preventing people from lying on the grass? (San Francisco Beautiful).
This is not a new issue and I think it will not “go away” as easily as we would like the homeless to go away. This issue has been with us for a long time and I think it will continue unless we come up with a better solution. Any ideas?