Urban Design (xiv) Benches, cafes in fine mixed use areas

European cities have livlier street life than we do. Much of this is due to deliberate design choices, like limiting car traffic. And providing benches:

Our new Official Plan is to make Ottawa attractive for those new age employers and employees that are truly footloose and could locate anywhere. Other cities have attractive sidewalks, lots of plantings, benches, cafes … Ottawa is starkly bare (barren?) in comparison to Montreal or many other cities. If I was an employee touring various employment locations would I chose Ottawa?

I visit lots of cities in the USA which now have lively urban districts that employ the same techniques. It’s a shame they aren’t city wide, just in select, usually traditionally-walkable main street or touristy areas. But its a start. Already less-gentrified neighbourhoods are demanding the same urban amenities as the affluent or popular walkable blocks.

Ottawa prefers the illusion of welcome. The benches on Rideau Street and some on Queen are backless granite blocks. Cold on the butt, uncomfortable, for emergency use only. We seem afraid someone might actually sit or lay on one [the way to deal with panhandlers or the mentally ill sleeping on them is vagrancy laws and social outreach, not depriving everyone else of a bench].

We previously saw some Paris park benches that were huge and welcoming:

The closest we got to these welcoming urban spots with big benches was Lansdowne Park re-do, but then we copped out. Can’t have folks laying about in the Glebe.

Here’s a short bit of retaining wall in Copenhagen with a warm bench on it. No dividers keeping sittees separated and upright.

Everyone reading here is likely to have heard of the extended season outdoor seating in Europe promoted by Jan Gehl and successfully adopted in many places:

Sometimes, there isn’t even a need for much sidewalk space to add life. There are many advantages to fold up benches, they stay cleaner and dryer, and don’t block walking space when not in use:

I have seen these once in Ottawa, on Bank Street in Ottawa South. We could use a lot more.

Many downtown pedestrian-friendly districts¬† still have limited street traffic. After all, there are deliveries to make, garbage to remove. But when car traffic is limited, sidewalk cafes and people places sprout. Note that this one is unfenced. Across the lane, the view if of the side of church and …

… Yup, its a fire-hydrant for guys. Step behind the slightly curved shield and pee. The view of the cafe above was taken from action central. And from the cafe, there is no doubt what is going on. People watching …

I noticed more and more cafes are extending that three-season outdoor season into nearly-four seasons. This row of cafes has glass roofs with roll-down awnings when the sun is too hot. The side glass wind shields are adjustable/openable. Note the little alleyway in the foreground to the door to the upstairs uses:

This tent-like cafe has the sidewalk running right through the middle (the street was under repair), with lighting and space heaters above:

There was also the obligatory doggy water bowl and treat bowl. Good subliminal marketing, let Fido lead the master to the cafe. The dog probably has the better memory.

Notice the curved banquettes that are cozy company and warmth traps:

Glass walls and roofs may abate noise. Certainly in Europe there seems to be no worry about keeping a certain (looooong) distance from residential uses. Although in this example the cafe is still on private property of the building:

That acceptance of proximity, a fine mix of uses, may have something to do with the small scale of many cafes, and possibly operating hours that aren’t late night drinking venues. The closest to this I can think of is Westboro Station condo on Richmond Road, but the cafe and patio are on private land, not the sidewalk.

Note that planning porn always shows lively sidewalks with cafes, even if the actual city bylaws and NIMBY Community Associations strive to restrict or prevent such uses.

This winter, I am reminded of the viability of these cafe spaces each time I stand in those new bus shelters at Tunney’s. You know, the ones with glass walls right to the floor, high wood grain ceilings, doors, and often quite warm on winter days due to solar heat gain or just body heat. Now, if there was only a chair, tea,¬† and a croissant …



3 thoughts on “Urban Design (xiv) Benches, cafes in fine mixed use areas

  1. My favourite haunts for a coffee or snack are along the Gasses and Wegs (alleyways) of old European cities, like Zurich. They are characterized by perhaps two or three small tables, each with a pair of chairs. You order your coffee indoors, and someone brings it to you outside. A wonderful way to relax for 15 minutes and watch the people walk by.

    This would be so simple to replicate along Richmond Road, Wellington West, Preston or Elgin, but for the narrow minds at city hall, who want to regulate everything. My only question is why? Is it a way of justifying their jobs.

  2. Fold up side walk benches. Wonderful. They don’t have to be removed for snow clearing. I need to sit and rest when I’m out. In the winter sometimes I use a snow bank. Even in the warm weather there aren’t many benches downtown in Ottawa except around tourist attractions. I must say becauseI live along Preston Street that it’s a wonderful exception. Lots of benches year round. Just carry a fabric bag to sit on when the benches are wet or cold.

Comments are closed.