Looks cool, but uncomfortable. (Lydia DePillis)

While in Brooklyn this weekend, I noticed some unusual subway grates, raised and undulating structures that contributed some surprising curves to the otherwise rectilinear landscape. While aesthetically interesting, I assumed that the primary purpose of the vent covers must be to prevent homeless people from using them for a relatively warm bed on cold nights, as I’ve seen in both New York and the District. After all, most pieces of modern street furniture seem to have some kind of protrusion to make them unusable for any mildly transgressive behavior, like lying down or skateboarding. Innovations in vagrancy deterrence! I thought. What a great use of civic creativity.

Well, it turns out that city planners weren’t as cruel as I’d expected: The raised grates were put in a couple years ago as a way to solve the problem of subway flooding. Some of them—not the ones I saw—even have benches, making the street more comfortable as well. I still think they could better serve as sidewalk seating, but at least they’re not explicitly intended to make the urban environment less hospitable for those who make it their home.