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In my TEDx Talk  on the Transformative Power of Walking I noted the importance of benches in making places for people to be sociable, feel accepted on the street, and to people watch, a very important human activity. I also cited a study completed by  New York City’s Department of Transportation that showed that placing benches outside retail stores increased sales volumes by 14 per cent at the adjacent storefronts.

BBC’s Katie Shepherd examines an encouraging trend in North America where municipalities are now encouraging the placement of benches as a welcoming gesture outside of stores. Such actions by individual shop keepers often is the first step (no pun intended) to how to create a more coherent and customer friendly commercial area.

“American cities have an excess of roadway space,” says Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, an urban planning professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. The street seats movement aims to reclaim some of that road for the pedestrian” by making public space active and vibrant.

“In Washington, DC, the annual Park(ing) Day celebration, in which businesses and community organisers build temporary parks in metered parking spots, inspired a program to allow permanent parklets to be installed in approved spots along the District’s streets. Inside these new parklets, businesses put out benches and chairs for their customers and the public to use whenever tired feet need a rest.” New York City has two established programs encouraging public seating for transit riders and pedestrians, especially the elderly. In a program called “CityBench” the Department of Transportation reimburses businesses for public bench installation. Over 1,500 benches have been added by storekeepers so far. And, as in the case of New York City, taking out a parking lane of City Street for benches improves businesses’ bottom line.

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“Portland runs a “street seat” programme that has inspired eclectic designs – from benches that look like giant lawn chairs to seats that double as planters reminiscent of grassy hillsides. “Community engagement, that’s what made them really popular and really fun,” said Leah Treat, director for the Portland Bureau of Transportation.”

Where is Vancouver’s program supportive of increased seating in commercial areas? Is this something that can be themed or provide a whimsical gesture to the street? Seniors say we don’t have enough benches for the elderly in the commercial areas.  Would this be a good place to start?

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