In his time as the J. Stalin communist despot of Romania, Nicolae Ceausescu did a lot of fairly insane things in the name of displaying absolute power. He built a beautiful road going absolutely nowhere. He built The People’s Palace, which remains the heaviest structure ever created by man. And, as local history has it, he had peasants paint the dying leaves of trees green prior to his arrival anywhere in Romania.
A few months ago, we ran a story about Ft. Lauderdale, Florida’s war on its massive homeless population. The thrust of the article was this: The wealthy, people in positions of power don’t pay good good money to have their postcard illusions of reality spoiled by the unpleasantness of reality itself. There’s a certain conceit in the minds of the wealthy and powerful that says “I live in this sphere of existence, you live in that one, and never the twain shall meet. What happens to you does not affect me.” That’s true if you’re talking about rich tourists in Florida, communist dictators having trees painted green, or concrete and metal spikes created to impale the homeless.
Today, we bring you pictures from two seemingly very different places: An upscale townhouse apartment building in London, and the underside of a bridge in China. But both of these places have something in common: They were, shall we say, “modified” by unnamed persons to keep the unfortunate out of sight of the rich and powerful.
The picture above was taken by 33-year-old Andrew Horton of Woking, Surrey. He spotted these very sharp metal spikes outside of a block of upscale, privately owned apartments on Southward Bridge Road in Southwark.
Of course, placing spikes in areas where the homeless sleep isn’t entirely unprecedented. As some have pointed out, it’s been done other places in Europe. The second picture is (yes,you’re seeing that right) a park bench. The weary traveler simply slips a coin into the pay slot, at which point the spikes retract into the seat and they’re free to rest without impaling themselves.
But why, you may ask. Why all the sudden attention on keeping homeless people from sleeping in alcoves and on park benches in posh neighborhoods? Certainly, it has something to do with London’s 75 percent increase in homeless population in the last three years.
Of course, we shouldn’t be completely shocked by that figure, or the measures that the wealthy of England are willing to take to separate themselves from unpleasant realities. England is, at this point, effectively a bank on a rocky island in the North Atlantic. And if Wall Street has taught us anything, it’s that bankers on rocks in the North Atlantic don’t exactly appreciate the invasion of reality.
But, it seems we Westerners aren’t alone in this idea. Free trade being what it is, newly capitalist China has copied Europe with a slightly cruder, if larger, variation on the theme.
These spikes have begun cropping up like mushrooms in the rain under the bridges and overpasses of China’s cities. The pictures above were taken in Guangzhou, under a bridge where the homeless were known to congregate. Currently, a stunning 200 million of China’s 1.4 billion people (about one in seven) are homeless.
Oh, that new-car smell of capitalism.
Officially, they’re to prevent people from setting up illegal “roadside markets,” but nobody in China is fooled. Civil rights activist Liang Shuxin wrote on his blog, Sina Weibo:
“[The homeless] not only rest there but light fires to cook there as well, which poses danger…These concrete spikes are a disgrace on Guangzhou, which brands itself as a metropolis with tolerance and inclusiveness as its spirit.
Look at the United States, they have even more [homeless] than China! Do they really have to be so ruthless and cruel.”
Well, technically Liang (while we appreciate the left-handed compliment) that isn’t true. As of 2012, the U.S. only had about 633,000 homeless. Which, in a population of 300 million is…one in every 474 people, or 0.2% of the population.*
OK, then…nevermind. Point taken.
But, China is still a relative neophyte in the ruthless capitalism game. Give them a few more decades of corporatism and Gordon Gecko — they’ll catch up. Being a hybrid communist-capitalist society, China now has official state administration of greed. Which is far more efficient.
Speaking of the State — nobody in China is willing to take credit for the spikes. Hiding in the labyrinth of China’s incredible bureaucracy, both the Bureau of City Management and the Bureau of Transportation are denying responsibility. Which means, by power of deduction, the Japanese did it.
Maybe they’re trying to corner the green paint market.
(Not that we’d know anything about that.)
*EDITOR’S NOTE: Thank you to commenter “PaleBlue