Friday, February 24, 2017

Defensive Architecture For Libraries

The architect presented the landscaping plans for the library at a meeting in December. “It’s really going to be a defensive type of landscape,” she said to community members gathered at the library in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood.

She enumerated the features that would make the outside of the library a harder place to spend time: railings on walls to prevent sitting, undulating rock formations to prevent encampments, benches with armrests to prevent people from lying down.

A local resident, addressing the room, said tough measures were crucial, complaining that the library is the “destination of choice for the transients that are causing so much trouble in our neighborhood”.

Of all the places associated in the popular imagination with homelessness – park benches, skid rows, the undersides of freeways – libraries are likely low on the list. Yet the Castro branch, like others across California and elsewhere in the western US, is treated by many homeless people as a sanctuary from streets that can be cold, wet and dangerous.

Some residents, however, have urged making libraries or their environs less attractive to homeless visitors.

There has been “a huge increase” in the number of libraries offering homelessness programs since the late 2000s, according to Julie Todaro, president of the American Library Association. “What is continuously upsetting to us is the condition in which people have to exist.”

The allure of libraries for people with no permanent home is obvious. There is no cost to enter. They are warm and safe. They offer internet, electrical sockets, and materials that provide a mental escape from everyday life. Nurses patrol libraries in Pima County, Arizona, while in Salt Lake City, residents opposed plans to open the main branch 24 hours a day, fearing it would become a de facto homeless shelter. San Francisco’s main library, in the city’s downtown area, has a full-time social worker. (...)

The proposals, not yet finalized, echo other attempts to make public spaces unappealing to homeless people: jagged rocks under a freeway bridge in San Diego, and iron spikes on planter boxes outside a San Francisco supermarket.

by Alastair Gee, The Guardian |  Read more:
Image: Alastair Gee