Or, more importantly, the people who sit on them. It’s about the good things about just sitting, spending time outside, alone or with friends. It’s about any irritations or problems people have when they spend time outside in your local area. And it’s about design of outdoor places, where do people sit, are there not enough or too many benches?
Why are benches interesting?
Benches are interesting because when we sit on a bench we make ourselves ‘at home’ in a public place. We might be waiting for a bus, having a breather on the way to the shops, changing a baby’s nappy, catching up with a friend, having a drink, having a smoke, checking our texts, sneaking a quick nap. What do people think about how people around them use benches? Where benches are positioned makes a huge difference. Some are in beautiful spots, looking over a long view, maybe a bit of shade, birdsong. Others are great places to sit if you like to people watch, see the world go by, possibly a chance meeting with an old friend. But others are too close to smelly litter bins, too cold or windy, or too secluded and feel a bit unsafe. There are a surprising number that look straight over roundabouts. Some people don’t like benches too close to their home as they worry about who might hang out there. Living in a city is the art of living among strangers.
Benches are unusual places, because when you sit down someone you don’t know might sit next to you. Benches are a public benefit of society. For free you have somewhere to sit down for as long as you like and you don’t even need to pay for a coffee. We’re interested in benches because by talking to people using benches, maybe we can find out about how comfortable people feel spending time outside in their local area.
The pleasures and problems can tell us a bit about how the place is valued, and social connections within these locations. And we’re interested in benches because how benches are designed and positioned can make a difference to the very ordinary activity of just sitting.
Written by Clare Rishbeth