Archive for December, 2010

The warm lights of Christmas.

Posted: December 24, 2010 in Uncategorized

It’s cold.

There is snow on the ground, ice on the roads.

Everywhere there are lights.

Red lights.  Blue lights.  Golden yellow lights.

Some are subtle; some are garish.

They are lights of the season.

For many, they are a celebration of Christmas.  For some, they illuminate other religious or cultural celebrations.  For others, they represent a spirit of giving.

It’s too cold to spend much time outside.  But the lights of the season bring a little warmth.

Happy Holidays.  Merry Christmas.



On my last post regarding movable chairs, Rick Lee asked about the security of the chairs at Times Square.  I posed the question to my LinkedIn colleagues and got this excellent response from Harriet Grimm, a New York City landscape architect:

Movable chairs are in use at Bryant Park and have become a signature element for the park used as Bryant Park Corporation’s logo. Similar movable tables and chairs are set up every morning in the closed sections on Broadway at Times Square, and numerous closed traffic triangles that have very quickly become small open park-like spaces such as triangle at 14th Street and 9th Avenue, Hudson Street at Chambers Street, at plaza areas near the State and Federal courthouses, and at park locations along the Hudson River Park.  These tables and chairs are ‘attended’.  Workers set them up in the AM; they are wiped down during the day; and are locked to a fence with a bicycle chain after dark.

Much of this is being done as part of a NYC Dept of Transportation “complete streets” initiative. See the DOT website: for numerous examples of initiatives including DOT’s program to encourage “pop up” cafes.

People are not ‘walking away’ from Times Square with chairs. Security at Times Square is very tight from an anti-terrorism stand point.  The space is closely monitored and the presence of brightly uniformed maintenance staff make it very unlikely that theft would be a serious problem. See:   Good luck with your study; and please visit NYC.

Things have not been so successful at the University of Wisconsin.  Gary Brown reports that the use of designer chairs (my words) have made them coveted prizes for students and alums and they have indeed “walked away”.  Gary recommends the use of more generic chairs that are not so tempting to take home.

Have a seat, please.

Posted: December 5, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

As we’ve discussed before, one of the fundamental requirements for a successful public space is adequate seating.  We’ve talked about different kinds of benches and acknowledged that seating can also be provided by low seat-walls or similar structures.  Even strategically placed boulders can serve as a place to sit.  What I have failed to mention is the chair.


Yes, the classic, four-legged, one-person-at-a-time chair.


Inside the modern coffee shop and cafe, we take the table and chair combo for granted.    And if the cafe or coffee shop happens to spill beyond its four walls, we’re not surprised to see a few tables and chairs just outside the door.  But that’s not what I’m talking about.  I’m talking about movable tables and chairs in a full-fledged public space that’s not directly associated with a cafe or coffee shop.


Why movable chairs instead of benches?   First, chairs give you some choice.  If a bench is in the shade and you want to sit in the sun, too bad.  By contrast, you can pick up a chair and move it to your favorite sunny spot.  You can arrange chairs into a conversational setting if you’re with a group of friends.  Or if you’re by yourself and the best place to sit is already occupied by people you don’t know, you can move a chair –even if it’s only a couple of feet — and satisfy your needs without invading the social space of someone else.


Next time you’re in a setting with movable chairs, watch people.  You’ll invariably see someone take a chair and move it so very slightly before sitting.  It’s an unconscious expression of autonomy.  We all like our independence, and being able to sit where we want as opposed to where some public space designer tells us is one of the small victories we find satisfying.


Now, if you’re like me, you worry about vandalism and people stealing chairs.  So I put the question to my colleagues across the country via my LinkedIn discussion groups.  Here’s what they told me:


Mike from San Antonio says they’ve had chairs in the Main Plaza of that city for at least two years without incident.  Ora and others from New York City tell me that Bryant Park and many other public spaces have movable chairs and tables and no significant problems.  Rachel reports on movable chairs at Campus Martius Park in Detroit.  Kevin notes Paley Park in New York and Union Square in San Francisco.  Jason reports in from Portland and Robert from Kansas City.  A few noted that some of the public spaces are well-managed and some may even chain up their chairs at night, but generally, the concept of movable chairs seems to work.


As a means to make public spaces more inviting, movable chairs should be a serious consideration.  Let’s give people a choice in where they can sit.