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.


  1. Rick Lee says:

    I was just wondering about that when I was in NYC in October. Times Square has hundreds of little red tables and chairs set out in the new pedestrian spaces which used to be streets. I wondered how many of those cute lightweight tables and chairs walked away. Possibly the high visibility of the bright red color makes them more difficult to steal?

  2. heather says:

    Do you know good sources for moveable tables and chairs? We need them for a library park in Oregon. Thanks for the help!

    • Hi, Heather. I’ve found several sources for the Byrant Park type bistro tables and chairs, though I’ve never been involved in a purchase myself, so I can’t vouch for the quality or service. I think Fermob, a French company, makes the furniture used in Bryant Park. Looks like this is the Fermob US site: http://www.fermobusa.com. Northwest Pool and Spa in Eugene is listed as a retailer. Here’s another source with other styles as well.http://www.bistropatio.com/chairs-folding
      I’m sure there are more. Walmart and Cosco sell a version, but if it were me, I’d probably find a way to buy the Fermob tables. Hope this helps.

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