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Blog from Senior Program Officer of A Strong Neighborhood: Please, just a nice place to sit.

Posted on 12/11/17 by Kristen in SC Perspectives

Blog from Senior Program Officer of A Strong Neighborhood: Please, just a nice place to sit.

Holly Whyte is known as one of the most influential observers of the city and the space around it. He was an advocate for parks, plazas, sidewalks and other pedestrian spaces that invite schmoozing, (a Yiddish term he popularized), or simply encountering other people. He also encouraged Jane Jacobs to write her landmark book: Death and Life of Great American City. In 1972, Whyte wrote an article for the New York Times that criticized designers, architects and local government for the lack of adequate seating in New York City. Yes – he said for a world-class city, the seating sucks.

He observed that the places that are “sit-able” are the most sociable – and sociable places are the safest. Moreover, seating provides a linkage between people and prompts strangers to talk to other strangers as if they knew each other, a process called triangulation.

According to Whyte and Project for Public Spaces, good seating has three parts:

  • Well located, attractive and appeals to all ages
  • Guidelines for what benches and moveable chairs are appropriate – check out this short but cute clip showing the importance of moveable seating
  • Comfortable, right-sized, from sit walls to steps

Whyte’s call for action still has resonance. Case in point: Making Our Own Space, (MOOS), conducted a survey of neighborhood youth about parks. Guess what they wanted? Seating! MOOS ran with this and did some prototyping. The Stoop Slide, Crown and Magic Carpet are examples of their creations. In addition, they built a mega bench for the area seniors. Visit this page for some visuals.

My challenge to you: look for opportunities for seating in your neighborhood. Then discuss.

Nelson Beckford
Senior Program Officer for A Strong Neighborhood