For many, metropolitan centers symbolize the American dream. Towering sky scrapers and animated streets display the gorgeous outputs of capitalism. Interestingly enough, American metropolitan centers weren’t always hotbeds of wealth and success. A series of metropolitan policy changes and technological advances precipitates today’s scenic downtown image. Policy reformation involved exiling homeless populations to ensure downtown locations as a playground for wealthy and middle class Americans.
Previously, cities like Detroit, Cleveland, New York, and other industrial centers housed factories that employed millions of diverse Americans, even during the malaise of segregation. Following improved technology, factories replaced employment with automation, and opportunity diminished. The mass production of the automobile and extension of the railroad enabled white Americans, or anyone with substantial finances, to relocate their homes outside of urban centers. Similarly, factories fled the urban landscape for the suburbs and anti-labor union lands in the South. While the affluent enjoyed their suburban lives, metropolitan centers experienced declining tax revenue, virtually no employment opportunity, and large minority populations that lacked the social mobility to follow their employers into the suburbs. Soon enough, the “Rust Belt” and other industrial economies crumbled.
After the decimation of “downtown,” cities, starting with Los Angeles (L.A.), reformed metropolitan policy to regain tax revenue they once gleaned from corporations and wealthy or middle class Americans. Many whites viewed “downtown,” their former workplace and home, as an impoverished habitat for unrespectable people, e.g. minorities. Essentially, L.A. tasked itself with removing minority and homeless communities that populated center city. Urban planning, in which metropolitan governments invoked eminent domain to destroy neighborhoods and replace them with grandiose commercial settings, effectively placed minorities into the L.A. periphery. To distinctly separate the periphery from downtown, further policy implications created a hardened downtown core restricting low-income persons from successfully populating center city. Soon, wealthy whites and the middle class flushed back into L.A., creating the crystalline “downtown” image associated with places like Manhattan, Inner Harbor, and the Chicago Loop in exchange for a violent undertone from displaced minorities struggling in peripheries. Some cities, such as Detroit and Cleveland, never emerged from the doldrums; however, many others adopted the L.A. blueprint and waged political war against the homeless and low-income communities to create ritzy urban life.
Exemplifying policy displacing the homeless, metropolitan centers expel vagrants with “homeless spikes.” Homeless spikes are geometric formations attached to flat surfaces, typically in the shape of a spike or pyramid, that make it impossible to sit or lie comfortably. Metropolitan governments add homeless spikes to surfaces on street corners, alleyways, and underneath bridges, effectively barring the homeless from vesting in public space. In many cases, governments argue that anti-homeless policies intend to “cut-costs,” such as the elimination of public bathrooms. Actually, adding homeless spikes to infrastructure is more costly than not doing so. Therefore, homeless spikes are the most visible component of metropolitan policy that intentionally exiles the homeless; governments embody more costs to do so.
Through an economic lens, homeless spikes are simply a form of intergovernmental competition. Essential to conservatism are laissez faire economics and small-government attitudes. Private entities must compete with one another, and the victors will reap the benefits from profits. In a sense, homeless spikes are methods in which metropolitan governments compete with one another: in order to display the most “presentable” downtown image, neighboring cities will deploy homeless spikes to portray order and prestige. Whichever city rids of its homeless population will take on a “more-respectable” image, and its local economy will reap the benefits from increased residency, tax revenue, and transactions. By laissez faire, homeless spikes are the product of competition, where metropolitan centers with the financial capacity to implement homeless spikes should do so to improve their market product. The federal government, on the other hand, should not interfere.
Although homeless spikes make sense for a free market, they infringe upon the integral conservative belief in equal opportunity. Equal opportunity is the belief that a person willing to relentlessly pursue his or her goals is entitled to the opportunity to do so. Homeless spikes, however, eliminate equal opportunity for the homeless. Since conservatives tout the idea of equal opportunity, some view the homeless as the people unwilling to relentlessly pursue their goals, or as downright lazy. In most cases, labeling the homeless as lazy is damn wrong. Homeless men and women are tasked with demanding inconveniences on a daily basis, such as finding clean running water or their next meal. While finding sustainable employment may be the key to eating and drinking, minimum wage jobs still do not guarantee the financial sustainability for acquiring housing. Whether the homeless should have housing is not in question; most conservatives believe that the homeless have to earn the financial capacity for housing. The issue is that homeless spikes prevent the homeless from residing in cities as vagrants, making it impossible to find long-term employment and sustainability, which conservatives believe is the panacea for eliminating homelessness.
Essentially, the crux of the homeless spike debate is as follows: if the largest employment opportunity exists in metropolitan centers, and the homeless need to reside in metropolitan centers to find jobs, why is the government exiling them? Vagrant men and women who travel to cities for employment cannot reside in public space, even temporarily. Homeless spikes, along with geometrically uncomfortable bus benches, excessive park sprinkler systems, vagrancy laws (laws permitting incarceration of people residing in public space), and the overall privatization of public space (including restrooms) make it impossible for a willing homeless person to find a job in a metropolitan center. A true conservative sees homeless spikes, and policy with similar intentions, as the rupturing of personal liberties. “Big government” is not one that bans homeless spikes, but one that consistently polices public space and punishes those who revel in it. Regardless of the economic point of view and the inherent competition between neighboring cities, equal opportunity is a falsehood in the presence of homeless spikes.