Spotlight

The street furniture designed to plunge those at rock bottom even deeper into despair

4 June 2021

View article in Spanish and French.

Author: Pablo Rodríguez Rebollo

Madrid, Madrid, Madrid… a fascinating city to live in, but only if you can afford to do so. If you weren’t born here, it’s difficult to deal with the stark contrast between the rich and the poor. The human mind cannot fathom such a contrast in the same place.

Two students from the Escuela de Creatividad Brother Madrid (Brother School of Creative) were tasked with an exercise focused on creating a campaign that would prove to be a big hit in the media. It was up to us to choose the topic, so we started to think about what we could discuss. We thought and thought, and suddenly: “those things they put outside banks so that homeless people can’t sit there!” When we started looking into it further, we found out that “those things” were actually much more than we had originally thought, that they had a specific name: anti-homeless architecture. And, unfortunately, it’s not just a type of street furniture that it used by banks, as we had initially thought, but street furniture that is found all over cities in all sorts of formats.

We talked about it in our social circles and found that most people knew about this type of architecture, but that no one, ourselves included, was quite aware of the magnitude of the problem. There were some people, however, that were completely unaware of the existence and purpose of this street furniture.

We decided to create a sticker that would mark places with this type of anti-homeless architecture in order to make this problem, which dislodges homeless people from the few places that they can actually take refuge in the city, more visible.

As our investigation about this problem went on, we started to feel more and more responsibility and involvement in the idea of giving a voice to homeless people. Even on the very day that we went out on the street to put down the stickers, we were still learning and observing the problem that was even greater than we had initially thought.

Anti-homeless architecture has been disguised as something else since its inception. The proposal justifies it by saying that it isn’t desirable to have people sat in front of shop windows, or that the separations on benches are there so that more people can fit on them.

Few people were able to make out the reality that this street furniture hides, which is how the designers and promoters of anti-homeless architecture have become the winners in the situation. These inhumane proposals have spread across cities, mostly in central areas in large cities, as is the case in Madrid.

Others, like ourselves, thought that this initiative was exclusive to banks and other, fundamentally private businesses. The reality, as can be seen with benches in the street, bus shelters, and other such street furniture, means that public entities also use part of their budget to invest in anti-homeless architecture. As this isn’t a private company, the measure could be considered less inflexible, but when the refurbishment of such architecture is paid for by citizens, who are not even consulted on the matter, the problem is even greater, especially when this street furniture is presented to us in the form of a lie.

Through activity on social media, we have tried to spread this information so that it reaches as many people as possible. Our aim is to give a voice to those that people don’t see, let alone listen to: homeless people. People who don’t live on the streets out of choice, but because they have no other option. We must be reminded that making a problem invisible doesn’t mean that it goes away.

Our task for class, which was to appear in the media, took a backseat so that we could focus fundamentally on a personal level with those living in the streets. Sometimes, we forget that citizens are the real driving force behind change.

This is how the action that my associate Carmen García Casquero and I (Pablo Rodríguez Rebollo) are carrying out was born. In the future, we would love to get to do commercials for big brands and social projects like this one to show that advertising and communication are capable of changing the world.

INFO

Translated from Spanish by Molly Timmons.

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