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Welcome to From My City. 

"A lively city scene is lively largely by virtue of its enormous collection of small elements" Jane Jacobs

Sit...and Chat

Sit...and Chat

It might not be the best time of the year to sit on a bench particularly here in London...  Let's nevertheless look at them as they are important features of our daily urban landscape. Sharing public spaces is part of our city life and benches are free and there for all to enjoy. They are also great placemaking tools as they connect communities within a particular space. 

By walking in various cities, one can notice an increased diversity in "urban" furniture. Some benches are newly designed, others are simply transformed. Creativity is more and more apparent. Today, city benches are no longer based on the traditional plain wooden park bench model. They take all sorts of shapes, colour and design. Their size, position and structure influence their function and use.

  A decorated traditional bench on Rothschild Boulevard in the center of Tel Aviv

A decorated traditional bench on Rothschild Boulevard in the center of Tel Aviv

  Urban knitting ornates individual seats in the old town of Evora, Portugal

Urban knitting ornates individual seats in the old town of Evora, Portugal

  A vibrant super design bench in front of Southbank Centre in London

A vibrant super design bench in front of Southbank Centre in London

  A group of seats in North Greenwich, London

A group of seats in North Greenwich, London

The primary function of a bench is obviously to sit, observe and chat. In many countries with good weather, people sit all year round on the structure located in the main square. But, in most cities, various users share urban benches at different time of the day: supervising parents while their kids are playing, local workers enjoying their lunch break, older people resting from their walk, people escaping from loneliness...

  Local residents and tourists sitting on the fountain area in the middle of the square in Evora, Portugal

Local residents and tourists sitting on the fountain area in the middle of the square in Evora, Portugal

  Lunch break in San Francisco's financial district

Lunch break in San Francisco's financial district

Many regeneration projects include interesting seating area allowing for groups to gather and socialize. 

  Seating area in front of the Regent's Canal at King's Cross

Seating area in front of the Regent's Canal at King's Cross

There is a positive trend to encourage networking with the installation of groups of individual seats allowing for easier and friendly communication.

  This intimate area has been created in one of King's College campuses in London Bridge

This intimate area has been created in one of King's College campuses in London Bridge

  A similar seating concept has been  added in Tanner Street Park in London Bridge

A similar seating concept has been  added in Tanner Street Park in London Bridge

Most of the time, urban people love to find informal, intimate, flexible and improvised seating. 

  People sitting on plastic boxes in Borough market

People sitting on plastic boxes in Borough market

There is also a trend for increasing seating facilities during the good season by adding beach chairs in the urban environment.  

  Last summer, beach chairs have been installed in front of the National Theatre in London

Last summer, beach chairs have been installed in front of the National Theatre in London

The shapes of traditional benches have been redesigned in some cities to allow residents and tourists to pause and enjoy the sunshine.

  Long benches along  the Tage in Lisbon

Long benches along  the Tage in Lisbon

In new mixed used developments, seating areas are becoming an essential feature and various considerations such as accessibility, comfort, safety, durability and cost have to be carefully balanced. 

  New mixed used development in Aldgate, London

New mixed used development in Aldgate, London

It is however a sad fact that in some urban areas, benches have bad reputation. By fear of antisocial behaviour and to discourage extended sitting, some seating areas have been designed to be particularly uncomfortable (this is often referred as “hostile architecture”). The example is “the Camden bench”, a piece of concrete commissioned in 2012 by Camden Council to deter the use of the bench for sleeping, littering, skateboarding, drug dealing, graffiti…  We all know that the problem to tackle is not the bench itself and that the involvement of the local community must be real to be successful. During Placemaking Week in Amsterdam, we followed a small initiative in a disadvantaged area where a group of volunteers asked what the children wanted to change in their neighbourhood. One of the things they requested was to change the position of the existing benches to allow more people to stay together and to add some colours and fun around them. 

  Children asked to bring flowers near the benches and to put them close together

Children asked to bring flowers near the benches and to put them close together

Another area which influences urban seating is the concept of smart cities. We see more and more initiatives allowing for the public use of technology.  An example is the Ford Smart Benches offering free solar powered mobile charging and wifi access while you sit and rest.

  This Ford Smart Bench is located near Borough station in London

This Ford Smart Bench is located near Borough station in London

An interesting Manifesto for the Good Bench has been drafted by Radhika Bynon and Clare Rishbeth  and can be found here

Do share your pictures of your favourite benches!

 

 

 

 

 

Last chance ...

Last chance ...