Anti-Homeless Architecture – LSE Forgets Its Roots

When you visit LSE’s website, you are met with a statement. In a large box, right in the centre of the screen, text reads: “LSE was founded with the aim of understanding the causes of things and for the betterment of society”.

The “betterment of society” has been a longstanding focal point of LSE’s identity. The school was founded in 1895 by members of the Fabian society, a democratic socialist organisation, with the purpose of alleviating social ills and developing a more promising society for all of its members.

If the betterment of society is, as is so frequently claimed, the mission statement of LSE, questions should be raised about a recent replacement of library benches. The switch has been made from long metal benches, to wooden benches, which are interrupted by a series of arm rests. At first glance, this seems futile. It isn’t. The change appears to be a concerted effort by LSE’s management to prevent the homeless from being able to sleep there, removing one of the better sheltered locations available to rough sleepers.

Anti-homeless architecture is, I believe, one of the cruellest hallmarks of a society focused more on maintaining aesthetics than helping those most in need. The LSE Library benches join a growing list of hostile spaces across London, from spiked flooring to perch benches – deliberate and callous rejections of vulnerable persons.

Rough sleepers have no known track record of causing problems at the School. One student remarked that the only interaction she’d had with homeless communities on campus was when a woman asked that, if she wasn’t too busy, could she print a form for commercial squatting rights.

If the homeless are an eyesore, well, they should be. They are a constant and harrowing reminder of a system which fails so many, a support network across housing, mental health, and employment which allows citizens to fall through the net. They should not be, as LSE would like, invisible. Undoubtedly, we should seek to get the homeless off streets, doorways and library benches, but not because they are an nuisance –  because they are human.

I was attracted to LSE because of its promise to work towards the “betterment of society”, a mission statement which is being trodden under the feet of its current administration. The School’s self-promotion as a centre for social improvement is confined to a baseless academic exercise unless it practices what it preaches. Teaching students the value of social advancement whilst shunning homeless people from the streets outside relegates the School’s message to a laughable and ironic farce.

Considering its treatment of outsourced cleaners, staff victims of homophobia, and now local homeless, I am ashamed to belong to an institution which callously maltreats the most vulnerable in the society it once promised to improve.

To get involved, sign the petition here: https://www.change.org/p/london-school-of-economics-remove-new-armrests-from-lse-library-benches-and-reject-anti-homeless-architecture

Alternatively, contact your staff members. A draft letter written by students is available here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/e/2PACX-1vSIwq2Q4YMS71votS-xUpCVvuO0_pMKZ9xSLkFTwfcV8BJznC3SEomMWhU4pUInZodvdlfPZA8YAa8z/pub

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14 Comments

  1. 100% agree. It seems like LSE has long since decided to abandon its founding principles in practice, while being more than happy to use them as slogan-ised window dressing to slap on the prospectus/website/any other endless marketing material.

  2. Why are Holborn’s homeless LSE’s responsibility? This article is ignoring the failures of local authorities who have the only genuine responsibility to care for the homeless.

    Nowhere does LSE make any commitment to offering London’s homeless population a comfortable bench to sleep on. “The betterment of society” has been taken out of context. It is regarding LSE’s role as a social sciences university with a rich Alumni network of policy maker, not a social services provider.

    1. Thanks for your comment. The article doesn’t aim to suggest that LSE is personally responsible for the housing or social security of rough sleepers, but that is clearly distinct from actively removing sheltered spaces available to them, and making LSE’s campus hostile to them. The article does mention the local services that are inadequate, allowing people to fall through the net, but as an LSE-focused article, addressing those issues isn’t the focus of the piece. Furthermore, the betterment of society isn’t confined to policy making – that seems a narrow reading of LSE’s potential. Like other institutions, LSE has the opportunity to effect change at a local level, through providing models of practice on issues such as homelessness/ environmental sustainability/ workplace rights, etc. I hope that clears some things up!

      1. Does this defintion of “the betterment’s of society” mean that any institution/ person who hopes to live in a “better” society has the responsibility to care for the homeless?
        If I hope to see a better future for homeless people but would rather a rough sleeper doesnt sleep on the bench in my front garden, does that mean I am contradicting my values?
        And why stop at the benches? Surely the LSE is acting even more immorally by closing off the often-empty library to homeless sleepers than it is by “shunning them from the streets outside”, if we think it has such a broad responsibility at the local level?

        Hostility towards homeless people is of course a bad thing, but I think you need to consider exactly what you expect of LSE before criticising.

        1. That’s pretty bad reasoning fam

          First of all, you can’t compare the LSE to your front garden. You aren’t a multi-million pound public institution, are you?

          Second, this article is talking about something very concrete that actually happened, you can’t just reduce it to an extreme hypothetical situation like opening the library to the homeless. If anything your example shows how the article is reasonable and really isn’t asking for much.

          1. Values apply equally to individuals and institutions no matter how rich. Being an institution does not necessitate that the LSE has responsibility to care for homeless people. We could argue that the LSE is not being compassionate to the homeless in its architecture, but not that the LSE has a duty of care to the homeless. In the same way a very rich individual is not compassionate if they refuse to donate to charity, but does not have a duty to do so.

            My point was that if we accept that LSE has responsibility for the homeless simply offering a bench seems horribly inadequate. And anyway I hardly think that offering someone a shelter indoors is an “extreme” hypothetical situation.

        2. She’s very, very clearly indicated exactly what she expects of LSE: to not erect hostile architecture. Work on your reading comprehension, you nonce. This isn’t even an imperative to do anything; it’s one to not do anything, to leave rough sleepers alone. As far as standards of behaviour go this is pretty low bar to set, and LSE still can’t manage it.

          1. In asserting that LSE shouldn’t erect hostile architecture you are asserting that LSE has a responsibility to care for homeless people. It does not. And if she thought it did, just supplying benches (no matter how comfortable) is cruelly insufficient. So what is expected of LSE is not at all clear.

          2. CV you seem to really be struggling with the difference between positive and negative obligations; an obligation to do something, and an obligation to *not* do something. The former is not a corollary of the latter.

            By asserting that you should stop making crap arguments which make you look like an idiot (a negative obligation) I am not assering that you have a duty to protect me from encountering other idiots (a positive one).

            Similarly, by assering that LSE should not erect hostile architecture (a negative obligation) I am not assering that they should actively care for homeless people (a positive one).

            Hope that helps. If you want a 2.1 you’re going to need to clean up that sloppy thinking sharpish.

          3. You are now asserting that LSE has a obligation to not erect anti-homeless architecture.

            Obviously the LSE (private property) has no such obligation.
            They have no obligation to prevent a homeless person sleeping on campus. They have no obligation to allow someone to sleep on campus.
            The LSE is neutral on the issue of homelessness and is well within their right to segment the benches outside the library.

  3. To define “betterment of society” differs from person to person. Taking a certain view point, if the accumulated societal benefit of having arm rests for each individual student in addition to the eased work load of the cleaners in the morning outweighs the benefit of 1 or 2 rough sleepers sleeping there rather than an alternative location, would that not be seen as bettering society? Food for thought.

    1. Lmao. This is about pushing out the homeless, not helping students or cleaners. If LSE actually cared about cleaners’ workloads they wouldn’t understaff the service.

    2. Food for thought? Maybe if you’re a first year philosophy student headed for a 2.2

  4. LSE is an unashamedly neo-liberal instiinstitution promoting a, now discredited liberal social order.
    This institution was the laboratory for the New Deal
    Welfare State in 1945 with committed academics like the Director William Beveridge, Harold Laski and many more! I lived through that period as a young boy and know with hindsight the depth of the British political and business classes of that time!
    Today’s academics and the ‘universities’ that are their context are shallow, and narcissistic.
    LSE has a portfportfolio of the wealthiest properties in London and it’s miserable idolatrous rationalist pretensions reflect that! It is a beneficiary of neo-liberal inhumanity, now exposed as never before!

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