The signs they are a changin’


London and Montreal recently introduced, stainless steel ‘anti-homeless’ and ‘anti-loitering’ spikes on public benches and footpath ledges as part of a growing trend in urban planning known as ‘hostile architecture‘.

Hostile architecture is being embraced by more and more cities, forcing the homeless out as part of urban renewal, usually ahead of major sporting events, perhaps in the belief that this will drive tourism and boost the economy. In the lead up to the World Cup this year it is estimated that 1.5 million people from the slums of Rio de Janeiro were resettled.

Thankfully not everyone is a fan of hostile architecture and a movement has grown in opposition to the inhumane spiking of sheltered spaces in cities. Advertisers, agencies and the Out-of-Home (OOH) industry have led with some forward thinking ideas, using outdoor advertising infrastructure to literally build roofs to shelter the homeless.

Responses include modified park benches in Vancouver, with convertible backrests that function as overhanging covers to shelter the homeless. A Slovakian-based design agency has developed concepts for adapting billboards as housing. Their proposal sees roadside billboards used as the foundation for a lofted dwelling constructed from wood, concrete and steel, which includes a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and windows.

IBM were a bit ahead of the curve when in 2013, it launched its campaign ‘people for smarter cities’ aimed to spark positive change and unite city leaders by creating advertising with a purpose. By simply adding a curve to a billboard they were able to create a shelter from the rain, a ramp over a flight of stairs and a bench on the side of a building.

Add to this, floating billboards in Manila that clean river systems, as well as air and water purifying billboards in Peru, and what we are witnessing is an exciting interaction between OOH and the community through progressive solutions for issues that plague the modern world. As OOH continues to break the mould of conventionality through advances in digital, it is exciting to also see new ideas that improve functionality and benefit the less fortunate.