Can Public Benches Make Our Communities Friendlier?

published Jul 10, 2017
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Borrowing a cup of sugar, coffee klatches, block parties, stoop parties…are the days of neighborly camaraderie a thing of the past? One designer and communications specialist has launched an endeavor to make neighborhoods and neighbors more friendly.

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According to a 2015 analysis with data from General Social Study, only 20% of Americans regularly spend time with their neighbors. Cathelijn de Reede’s project, BenchesCollective, hopes to change that.

BenchesCollective is a registry that aims to turn every public bench in front of homes and businesses into mini community hubs. Reede likens them to “open-air cafés.”

July 1 marked BenchesCollective’s first organized edition encouraging all members around the world to host an activity around a public bench. The Collective originally started in Amsterdam in 2014. Since that time over 1,300 benches have been registered. The Collective now stretches from the Netherlands, to the US, South Africa, Taiwan, and beyond.

The idea behind the benches is simple: that wine or coffee tastings, a small magic show or the like will bring neighbors together, facilitating more friendly exchanges or even cultural dialogues. In fact, in Amsterdam one bench named after former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki Moon, is designated for just for the latter. Another bench is designed as a meeting place for refugees and older citizens, while yet another bench is meant for exchanges on city beautification.

A similar practice — this one reclaiming city parking spots for parklets — has taken hold in some American cities. It is a movement that began first in San Francisco and then moved to Los Angeles. Parklets aim to encourage pedestrian activity by introducing “new streetscape features such as seating, planting, bicycle parking, or elements of play,” notes the LA City website.

Do these endeavors really facilitate more neighborly interaction or more dialogue? A BenchesCollective poll conducted with users found that 52% of “BenchesHosts” kept in contact with their neighbors after opening a bench; 42% of visitors say they have made new friends by visiting a bench. Additionally, 31% say they feel safer by having an bench in their neighborhood.

What do you think, does turning the bench outside your home or business into a mini community hub sound like a good idea?

h/t Co.Design