Documenting the use of defensive urban design in the Greater Toronto Area and beyond.

Defensive urban design, also known as hostile, unpleasant, or exclusive architecture is used to guide or restrict behaviour in urban space as a form of crime prevention or protection of property.

From benches and ledges that prevent skateboarding and lying down to surveillance and security technologies that keep a watchful eye on the city, defensive urban design has become an everyday part of our urban fabric.


It's an intentional design strategy that targets people who use or rely on public space the most - like people who are homeless and youth -  by restricting behaviours they engage in like sleeping in public and skateboarding. It also makes the city more hostile for other vulnerable residents like people who are elderly,  people who have a disability,  and young children.

This site surveys the many forms of defensive urban design that work to influence how we occupy and interact with our public spaces.

Created by Cara Chellew

Cara Chellew is a public space researcher and organizer with the Toronto Public Space Committee. She received her Masters in Environmental Studies (Planning) at York University and is the founder of the Defensive Urbanism Research Network.


In November 2018, she gave a TEDx talk in Tartu, Estonia called "Rethinking defensive urban design" and has written articles on defensive urbanism that have been published in the Canadian Journal of Urban ResearchSpacing Magazine, and the Ontario Planning Journal.

Twitter:  @DefensiveTO      Instagram:  @defensive_to       Email:  defensiveto (at) gmail.com


Facebook:  Defensive Urbanism Research Network  +   Defensive Toronto

#defensiveTO in the Media


Glyn Bowerman. (January 31, 2020). Podcast 043: We are the public realm. Spacing Radio.

Phat Le & Benjamin de Boer (January 14-27, 2020) Meditation in Concrete II. Alexus Projects, DesignTO Festival.

Michaela Keil & Justine Ronis Le-Moal (November 25, 2019). Hostile Architecture. The McGill Daily.


Aimé Majeau Beauchamp (November 19, 2019). L'architecture défensive, une architecture qui dérange. ONFR+


Charlotte D'Arcy (August 26, 2019). A major urban design trend is making Toronto less liveable. Local Love.


Amy Fallon (August 19, 2019). What’s behind the rise in defensive design? Equal Times.


Robert Rosenberger (August 12, 2019). On hostile design: Theoretical and empirical prospects. Urban Studies.


Cara Chellew (July 30, 2019). Mapping defensive urban design in Toronto. Spacing.


Mike Ross & Joeita Gupta (July 17, 2019).  Defensive architecture. Live from Studio 5 on AMI-audio.


Lauren Pelley (July 2, 2019). How 'defensive design' leads to rigid benches, metal spikes, and 'visual violence' in modern cities. CBC News.


Matt Galloway (July 2, 2019). How Defensive Design controls public space in Toronto. CBC's Metro Morning.


Shawn Micallef (June 14, 2019). Defensive, even hostile architecture can be found all over Toronto. The Toronto Star.

Cara Chellew (June 13, 2019). Defending Suburbia: Exploring the Use of Defensive Urban Design Outside of the City Centre. Canadian Journal of Urban Research.


Kara Mavros (February 15, 2019). Must Defensive Design Be Hostile? Architectural Record.


Robert Rosenberger (December 4, 2018). Intervention–The Public Spaces of Trump Tower Reflect the Cruelty and Self-Dealing of the Trump Presidency. Antipode Online.


Cara Chellew (November 3, 2018). Rethinking defensive urban design. TEDxTartu.


Claes Sörstedt, Malin Åberg-Wennerholm & Christina Pech (eds.)(Fall 2018). Uglier. The School of Architecture, KTH Royal Institute of Technology.


Hidden Hostility DC https://www.hiddenhostilitydc.com


Cara Chellew (Spring 2018). Hostile Design Strategies: It's time to tear down our city's spatial barriers. Spacing.


Ruth Moon Mari (May 31, 2018). Learning hospitality in cities and other spaces. Response Magazine.


Daniela Germano (April 5, 2018). After backlash, Toronto hospital removes bars aimed at keeping homeless people away. The National Post.


Tamar Harris (April 5, 2018). ‘Hostile architecture’ a growing problem for the homeless, advocates say. The Toronto Star.


CBC News (April 4, 2018). UHN apologizes for Toronto General vent grate that's 'hostile' to the homeless. CBC News.


Matt Galloway (March 29, 2018). New cover at sidewalk grate outside Toronto General Hospital. Metro Morning, CBC Radio.


Elizabeth Wallace (March 21, 2018). What's Behind the Uptick in Hostile Architecture? Architectural Digest.


Lloyd Alter (February 14, 2018). Hostile design doesn't work for any age group: This isn't rocket science. People just need a place to sit. Mother Nature Network.


Gill Deacon (February 14, 2018). Defensive urban design in Toronto. Here and Now on CBC Radio.

Cara Chellew (February 12, 2018). Bars, barriers and ghost amenities: Defensive urban design in Toronto. Torontoist.


Eleanor Scott (February 5, 2018). An artist is using Instagram to fight “designs against humanity” Lost At E Minor.


Claire Voon (February 1, 2018). Artist Launches Campaign to Call Out Hostile Urban Design. Hyperallergetic.


Javiera Sánchez B. (January 12, 2018). Bullying urbano. La Tercera.


Andrea Lo (December 21, 2017). The debate: Is hostile architecture designing people -- and nature -- out of cities? CNN.

Rachel Lissner (May 5, 2017). Celebrate the Ongoing Story of Toronto With These 10 Jane’s Walks. Torontoist.

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