By The Editorial Board
In Coraopolis the council voted unanimously to tear down the Paul Triko Gazebo, a structure which has been sitting in the middle of the business district for about 20 years.
Council members discussed the state of the gazebo which they said was in disrepair. As a visitor to the area who checked out the state of the structure, in our opinion it did need to be repaired, but it is by no means falling down. In fact, our editor wondered aloud if that was the right gazebo.
No matter. We’re not carpenters or council members. What do we know?
One issue that seemed to be recurring about the gazebo was that it not only did not look proportional to the space, but that an unhoused person was regularly sleeping in the gazebo. For neighboring businesses and food truck owners, having flexible seating there in that spot was preferable to the gazebo. Getting rid of it, and putting chairs in the same spot would prevent people from sleeping there overnight.
This is an example of “hostile architecture,” a trend to design public spaces to prevent people from using them in ways local governments don’t want. Some extreme examples are spikes on walls near benches to keep people from nodding off on them. As documented in a BBC article by Frank Swain, San Francisco designed small metal devices called “pig’s ears” on handrails so skateboarders can’t use them for doing tricks. Swain also details the “Camden” bench, a divided bench named after the UK Council which invented it, that prevents people from lying down. =
Hostile architecture has been described as inhumane, because it puts people on the same level as unwanted pigeons, creatures which are also dissuaded from perching with metal spikes.
It also pushes a growing problem further down the road. Is the best way to deal with a homeless population to shove these people off onto another community? It is certainly less complicated than dealing with the variety of needs that might have driven someone into such a desperate situation. Addressing trauma, unemployment, possible mental illness and a country-wide housing crisis is expensive.
Tearing down a 20-year-old wooden structure is relatively cheap.
Ironically, Paul Triko for whom the gazebo was dedicated, built apartment complexes and homes.
The word gazebo calls up images of a genteel past; rose-covered trellises and brass bands playing in the center of a small town.
In contrast, the term “butterfly shade” which was suggested as a replacement seems like a term out of a fantasy or far-future story. What is a butterfly shade?
It’s not just a fancy name for a metal awning on posts–it’s a look into how the council wants their community to be perceived. They don’t want the old-fashioned town square, with the design that has been described as better fitting a backyard than a city street.
They want something sleeker and more modern that will welcome the correct people – the people spending money at local business – and dissuade the incorrect people from hunkering down and making camp.
Mayor Michael Dixon expressed outrage at the decision to remove the gazebo without greater public debate.
The debate, however, seems to be something more than a discussion of the benefits of an old-time symbol of community over a newer, more modern one. It seems to be a debate about the benefits of compassion over commerce.