Last time you perched on a bench in a crowded inner-city place, you probably weren’t aware you were communing with the frontline against terrorism. Or that, when you admired a flower display in a public square, you were actually eyeing up several tonnes of “hostile vehicle mitigation” technology – the contemporary city’s equivalent of moats and ramparts, cloaked in granite and foliage.
Since terrorism has become one of the guiding forces in urban design, the incorporation of immense fortifications into everyday streets has spawned an entire industry of defensive architecture, complete with battalions of protective street furniture. It is a phenomenon that attempts to marry the desire of counter-terrorism agencies to erect enormous razor-wire-topped concrete walls around everything with the need for life to go on as usual. The spawn of this unhappy marriage is usually as clunky as you would expect. It marches around station squares and is strewn across corporate plazas all over the country, in the form of densely packed lines of chunky bollards, and granite benches on steroids.
The latest developments in this rising tide of urban paranoia are on display this week at the Counter Terror Expo in west London’s Olympia, a sprawling trade show that proudly claims to showcase “the key terror threat areas under one roof”. It is an enormous supermarket of neuroses, the rhetoric of threat and fear monetised into innumerable services and gadgets. […]