I first noticed it on Canal Street in New Orleans. Random steel spikes in building doorways. It took me a minute to figure out what they were for. They certainly weren’t public art and didn’t appear to serve a purpose. Once I was realized they were to prevent the homeless from sleeping, I was astonished.

I was astonished at such intentional unkindness.

Once you notice this phenomenon, you can’t un-notice it. Park benches slant forward, walls are uneven, with jagged masonry; there are pavement sprinklers, spikes, barricades, even coin-operated benches…all with the sole purpose of preventing society’s “unwanted” from inhabiting public space.

It even has a name: Disciplinary (or defensive) architecture.

So this isn’t carelessness or accidental. These are carefully considered, planned, designed and implemented acts of unkindness.


Artist Nils Norman has documented thousands of “defensive” architecture examples.

Or, as Alex Andreou put it in the Guardian, “[Defensive architecture] is the aggregated, concrete, spiked expression of a lack of generosity of spirit … Making our urban environment hostile breeds hardness and isolation. It makes life a little uglier for all of us.”

Does that sound like a world you want to live in? Nope.

So hey guys, let’s try to be kind to each other. Practice it randomly. Practice it intentionally. Practice it early and often. It’s actually good for your physical AND mental health!

Let’s aim for more this. And less this.

We good with that?

Kindness-inspiring books

ExtraYarnExtra Yarn, Mac Barnett, Illustrated by Jon Klassen

A little girl discovers an endless box of yarn! Guess why it’s endless? Because she shared it with her whole town! A lovely little children’s book about community and generosity.

ArtofHappinessThe Art of Happiness and The Art of Happiness in a Troubled World, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler, M.D.

It’s the Dalai Lama. You better listen because he knows his business.

Compassion is a true source of happiness. Cultivating a close, warm-hearted feeling for others automatically puts the mind at ease, helps remove fears and insecurities and gives us the strength to cope with any obstacles we encounter.

OnKindnessOn Kindness, Adam Phillips and Barbara Taylor

Why does being kind feel so dangerous? And why are we suspicious when we are on the receiving end? A psychoanalyst and a historian attempt to explain how modern people have chosen loneliness over connection- even though we crave it.

Caring about others is what makes us fully human. We depend on each other not just for our survival but for our very being. The self without sympathetic attachments is either a fiction or a lunatic.

WorldAccordingThe World According to Mr. Rogers: Important things to Remember, Fred Rogers

Like the Dalai Lama, it’s Mr. Rogers.

You better listen to him, too.

The real issue in life is not how many blessings we have, but what we do with our blessings. Some people have many blessings and hoard. Some have few and give everything away.

CongratulationsCongratulations, By the Way, George Saunders

This is the transcript of the convocation address George Sanders gave at Syracuse University.

It is a little book, but it’s simple and uplifting.

So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it. What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering and I responded…sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.

I’m going on vacation this week. I’m going to pay tolls for people behind me. Because someone once did it for me and I felt great all day. What’s the best random act of kindness someone did for you?

This post is dedicated to my favorite bouncer, who won’t say happy birthday to strangers.



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17 responses to “Intentions.

  1. If we were kinder to each other, there would be such problems in the world that require such unkind solutions.

  2. alicialeeannehoad

    Love , love , LOVE this post! Kindness is lacking in the world so anyone that encourages it is a star in my eyes :)


  3. Those spikes certainly look scary. I wouldn’t want to accidentally trip and fall on one of these. Yikes!

  4. Wow I’d never heard of defensive architecture. Kindness is much better. Great post.

  5. Clayton the Page Turner

    Jesus I knew some cities hated the homeless but never thought I would see something like this. Makes me want to go downtown here in Orlando to see if I can find that.

    I have seen spikes like that before but for preventing birds from nesting. Not people from sleeping.

  6. Bobbie

    I highly recommend the nonfiction book Invisible Thread by Laura Schroff. It is the story of a lifelong act of kindness to an impoverished street kid by a young professional woman.

  7. Beth L

    Sad, isn’t it? This is the one I’ve heard about:

  8. How utterly cruel. Why must humans be so abhorrent. It is so sad, I have seen plenty of such things myself and it is disgusting! Some of those folk can’t help their situation, why make life harder on them. The streets of central Paris, I found, were covered, at night, with sleeping people. It made me feel sad for their plight, to have to sleep in the streets among the rats, but at least they weren’t being shunned by architecture! Thanks for sharing those books, we all need a reminder to demonstrate kindness. Somebody out there might need it so desperately. Hell, WE might even need it someday! One good turn breeds another, and all that :)

  9. Wow! Thank you for opening my eyes! I LOVE architecture and so does my son, I cant imagine creating something with this purpose!!

  10. aubreysbooknook

    Wow! That’s awful! I can’t believe I have never seen that before, but now I will be on the lookout. :(

  11. Wow. Disciplinary or defensive architecture. Bizarre and unsettling concept. Mr. Rogers would not approve. Thanks for a well written post.

  12. Activists in Europe filled in the space between ground spikes with concrete to render them useless.

  13. Lillith Cavalli

    i have no words! it remembered me on the way how they want to scare away birds on the streets…you know, the spikes you can see on lanterns or whatever…:(((

  14. I never realised before that benches are built like that on purpose! I can’t believe I never put two and two together! This is insane, why would people be that cruel?

  15. That saddens me, that they go out of their way to create such a thing. Why not use the money to keep shelters open later? Why not use the money to put lights on in abandoned buildings so they can have shelter? Instead of leaving them vacant, etc? Everyone want to claim to help thy neighbor-but all I see are selfish people. :-(

  16. Pingback: September 2015 Recap | Eleventh Stack

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