I am continually looking at articles about city life, both in America and abroad. Lately, I have seen an increase in items about city benches and their relationship to city street vitality and pedestrian friendliness. Seems like sometimes folks just want to “sit a spell” or converse, while others are willing to just watch the world go by.
In Lexington, outside of a handful of locations downtown, street side benches and tables with chairs are reserved for the sidewalk cafe/patios of restaurants' patrons and generally made unusable outside of their operation hours. From what I have observed over 40+ years, any street furniture, which is usually a large part of all streetscape plan considerations, is slowly removed from the plans and from the streets.
It is often claimed that these benches and seating areas are being abused or misused, simply by being used by the “wrong type” of occupant or for longer time periods than typical use entails. That's right, the vagrants and “homeless” of our fair city are not the vitality which we want to see on our streets.
At least one group is looking at encouraging seating for pedestrians in one of our larger cities. Streetseats.org is compiling a wiki-like database of locations where simple folks can sit and rest while shopping or sight seeing. Their philosophy is summed up from their web page:
As silly as it sounds, the opportunity to sit down is one of the great joys, if not necessities of urban living. Yet cities the world over fail to provide enough places for people to rest, socialize, or simply watch the world go by. We think this needs to change, Streetseats.org
So far, their data seems to only include lower Manhattan and some of Brooklyn, but it could be expanded to a national network. I would like to see Lexington on this list somehow. Can you imagine a simple bench like the one outside of the fictional Floyd's barber shop in Mayberry, R.F.D.?
As long as we are speaking of additions coming to our streets, let me bring up the Bourbon Barrel Project on Town Branch set for public display in September. It appears to be a bit different from the previous Horse Mania (both herd 1 & herd 2) and Doors displays which extended outside of downtown. These will be decorated, used Town Branch bourbon barrels all along the Town Branch Trail, including the portion proposed to be resurfaced. Hopefully this event will be as successful as in the past.
The past displays have occupied location of high pedestrian traffic volume and sometimes impeded that traffic just to get noticed. The places of their final standing are well out of the usual traffic pattern. I noticed the other day that one of the 2000 herd (on West Main St) was looking a tad weather-worn and the applied jewels were flaking off as eleven years of harsh winter weather have taken a toll.
Now, what if, in the coming years we could bring these two ideas a little closer together? We have seen what art installations and transit have in common and the public's desire for additional examples. Just suppose that an arts group was to design decorative seating to be placed where they can be used to the peoples advantage. Decorated as public art, used as a benefit and maintained as a public service.
Will LexArts think about doing an installation like this? Probably not. Will Lexington consider its pedestrian needs as the city continues to grow its urban core? Only time will tell. Do these things need to be discussed? I and apparently some other urban citizens certainly think so.