Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Loitering with intent

Readers of The Year-long Lunch Break may remember an elderly gentleman I used to say hello to every morning, very early, on my way to work. Taking a cushion with him, he would quietly let himself out of the old people's home in which he was incarcerated, and sit on a wall on the street corner to watch the world go by.

Here is the wall in question:

The busy junction it overlooks has recently undergone its second massive reworking in the last three years. I happened upon the team of workmen who were installing the strange pebbled surface next to the wall, and asked them what it was for.

"It's to prevent loitering", replied the workman, as if that was the most obvious thing in the world. And as if, might I add, the prospect of having people pause at street corners and use the space to have a chat was somehow abhorrent. After all, while chatting they could always smile and wave at the CCTV that overlooks the junction, and on days when the technology wasn't working they would be useful as potential eyewitnesses to the many traffic accidents that (still) occur there. But non-moving people, especially those too old for the playground but too young for the pub, seem to be unwanted in urban design.

Now supposing town planners and architects took this anti-loitering idea to its logical conclusion. What we would find, as we walked through our towns and cities, would be a succession of spaces each trying to discourage a pause in our journey by being more repulsive than the others. But that couldn't possibly happen in real life, could it?

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