Movable chairs as public seating

Sparks Street has long exemplified “stodgy” to me. Whether it’s their strict interpretation of “pedestrian”, or even their benches. Old fashioned, locked down in place, don’t move them, don’t arrange them in conversation groupings. Pedestrians shall be see in splendid isolation and nothing more. I’m sorry about this view, as Sparks just seems to me to always underachieve its potential.

Carlingwood Mall does a better job of making their mall furniture fit the public meeting place mode, be it their conversation groupings, lamps, or small collections of gather-round-the-table. St Laurent Mall has some giant tables in their food court, specifically designed to promote interaction amongst people. I was there last week with my dad; we were watching a kid (young adult, really) repeatedly punching a tiny keyboard while wearing enormous earphones. Turns out he was writing music. Who knew? Learn something every day. Eighty-eight guy meets eighteen guy and is impressed. Eighteen guy seemed mildly impressed to met a vet.

So how come the suburbs do a better job in edge-city public spaces than does downtown Sparks?

Here’s another example I came across a few weeks back, this time in Cambridge (Boston) MA. Yes, I know it’s on lawn, and private property. It’s even on a college campus, and if there’s anywhere chairs will be appropriated and taken away it’s from a student-rich environment.

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Nonetheless, in  highly public areas, these colourful chairs are scattered around for people to rearrange as they see fit, to chase the sun some days, the shade other days. Arrange in a conversation group, or find a quiet spot all by your lonesome.

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Providers of such chairs have to count on a certain amount of loss. But smaller chairs are generally way less expensive per bum sat than giant cast iron benches reminiscent of Victorian England. And Sparks Street could put out a thousand in May, and reduce the numbers as winter comes. Jan Gehl would predict we will find them in use even in January.

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Heck, even New York City saw fit to put thousands of super cheapo chairs on Times Square to kick-start the public space. Yes some disappeared. Well, a lot. But after a few weeks, thefts dropped off drastically. Perhaps having a stolen Times Square chair in your apt marked you a laggard by that time. And it was still cheaper for NYC than installing architecturally-selected super-sturdy street furniture. It was the fast-fashion of landscaping.

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In Ottawa, I’m sure someone would fret that someone might hit someone with a chair, or fall off it, and sue. Funny, America is supposed to be the litigious place; but we have all the intimidation and fear that someone might sue us. Is it just an excuse for doing less?

3 thoughts on “Movable chairs as public seating

  1. Paris also has movable chairs in some of the big parks. They are all neatly numbered but are in different sizes and shapes for different people and include some seats for two. Sure there would be a drop in the numbers in the beginning but I’m sure that the quota would stabilize fairly quickly. I think it would be great!

  2. Being in Denver once for work a year or so ago, I went out for lunch with colleagues, and it was an unseasonable 15 degrees and sunny in December. They had scattered chairs everywhere, and everyone was moving them into the sun to soak up the winter warmth. The benches in the shade were negelected

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