Lately I’ve noticed oddly-placed park benches in new developments and reclaimed spaces. Would you want to sit on these brand new benches outside a CVS in MetroWest Boston?
Or how about these seats—offering a fine, unobscured view of car doors, tail lights and parking lots?
Park benches have come full circle—from meeting places to superfluous relics and back, apparently. Once an American mainstay, the park bench served as gathering spot, breathing space and room with a view—the perfect place to bask in the sun, find relief in the shade, and celebrate community.
Car culture, suburban sprawl, and mall meet-ups changed all that. Some park benches were even designed for discomfort to curb public loitering.
Now benches are back. Sort of. Urban designers realize the importance of public benches for community gathering, socialization, health and wellness, but the old “form follows function” rule seems not to hold. Without concern for purpose and placement, the park bench becomes a construction checklist item that fails to serve its audience. Rather than support us, these benches turn their backs on our needs.
If the goal of the bench is socialization, safety, scenery and shelter, why do the new benches face busy streets, blank walls and parking lots? Let’s promote community and our human need for connection, not devalue it. Stay tuned, pretty soon it seems we’ll need a “Bench Bill of Rights.”
Story and photos: Janice M. Ward