City designs and secret messages

I’m about to tell you something that will change how you see your surroundings. If you live in the city, that is. The folks who put them there call them the “silent agent“. These are designs that you see all around the city but are actually serving purposes you never expected. Especially if you’re one of the people that aren’t prime targets. Did you know your city is controlling its inhabitants?

Have you observed that any space that someone might lie down in, or even sit too long on, will most likely have spikes, railings, stones or boulders added?

San Francisco, the birthplace of street skateboarding, was also the first city to design solutions such as “pig’s ears” – metal flanges added to the corner edges of pavements and low walls to deter skateboarders.

In Calgary, Canada, authorities covered the ground beneath the Louise Bridge with thousands of bowling ball-sized rocks.

Public benches have been redesigned – you find some with armrests right smack in the middle. You wonder why?

And you see benches with ridged peaks and sloped surfaces and wonder if the builder was drunk at the time. But that design actually prevents sleeping, and deters litterers and drug dealers seeing as there are no crevices to hide stuff in.

Even the plastic chairs in McDonalds are engineered to be comfortable for a maximum of 15 minutes to keep tables free. So even if you wanted to you couldn’t just while away time after you’ve had a meal.

Robert Moses, the “master builder” of 20th Century New York City, famously crossed his roads on Long Island with low stonework bridges that buses could not pass under. This prevented poor people who relied on public transport visiting the beach retreats. The beach is enjoyed by wealthier car-owners only.

Heathrow’s Terminal 5 has just 700 seats for the estimated 35 million travellers a year. You’d wonder why there are so few seats when they obviously are aware of the traffic but guess what, the only place to sit down is in one of the 25 airport restaurants. And you know what that will do for the restaurants.

The escalators in multi-level shopping malls or department stores are often deliberately positioned so that you must walk past even more shops to get to the next floor.

Merging social engineering with civil engineering has a long history. In 1999, the UK opened a Design Against Crime research centre, and authorities in other countries have since followed suit.


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