Here They Are — The Sad Benches Where No One Wants to Sit

This lovely “place I don’t want to sit” comes from Drew Ackermann in Gambrills, Maryland. His wife tested it out just for laughs.

Last week, Gracen Johnson over at Strong Towns introduced the phrase “places I don’t want to sit” to describe the lousy, leftover public spaces where someone has plopped down a bench or two as an afterthought. The seating, in these cases, helps crystallize how unsalvageable our public realm becomes when everything else is planned around moving and storing cars. Who would actually want to sit there?

So Strong Towns and Streetsblog encouraged folks to Tweet their own examples at #PlacesIDontWantToSit. You all dug up some hilarious-but-sad places — here are some of the lousiest ones.

This submission comes to us via Kansas City-based Tweeter The Pedestrian Path, who added the helpful white arrow to point out the sitting space:

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Here’s one courtesy of yours truly. It shows the intersection of Carnegie and Ontario in Cleveland. The benches are on the left — they’re the Ohio Department of Transportation’s attempt at placemaking. Try harder next time!

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 9.53.13 AM

Sometimes the mistake is as simple as having the bench face the wrong way, like this one in Decatur, Georgia, courtesy of Twitter account Philabikes. What were they thinking?

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Here’s a lonely spot in downtown Phoenix via PTBrennan:

Photo: Phoenix New Times
Photo: Phoenix New Times

For some reason, nobody’s taking advantage of the scenery at this spot in Surrey, British Columbia, via RobertTWhite:

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Finally, here’s the place that Gracen Johnson visited that helped inspire the whole thing. She says she actually did sit and eat lunch here, and “when you close your eyes, it kind of sounds like the ocean.”

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18 thoughts on Here They Are — The Sad Benches Where No One Wants to Sit

  1. I suppose one could sad “sad benches” is being poetic, but I can’t think of an inanimate structure as having emotions like “sadness”. And could someone please define “placemaking”? The term shows up in Streetsblog articles, but it appears to be a code word for “transforming a location into something the writer would like to visit.”

  2. I’ve actually sat on that bench on downtown Decatur, or one just like it. I don’t think there really is a “right” direction for a bench to face in this situation. A park bench is what governments and landowners usually install in these situations, but it’s meant for a path-side spot in a wide-open park, not a tight urban sidewalk.

    If there isn’t enough room to turn the bench 90 degrees, perpendicular to the flow of traffic and pedestrians, then officials should install a bench without a back, a so-called plaza bench, so that people can choose which way to sit. Often these are contemporary, but they don’t need to be.

  3. If I remember correctly, A&W sized their burgers by age (small – Child, medium -Teen, large – Adult), so Siracha Teen would be a medium burger with Siracha sauce. (Or it could be a young hot Asian girl?)

  4. Sidewalks are at the very core of “placemaking”. I am looking at a book by Victor Dover and John Massingale called “Street Design” that is a text book with pages and pages of street design options like trees, curb heights, seaing options, block length, etc. Sidewalks are absolutely at the core of what makes a place a place. You state “any furniture should encourage brief seating only”. Hah! Says you!

    I guess we’ll need timed bus benches that go perpindicular every 5 minutes to ensure your design goals are met.

    But seriously, I think you’ve perhaps mis-spoken?

  5. People are affected by the built environment. Not everybody reacts the same to everything, but we’re a species with enough shared traits that some reliably accurate, evidence based, predictions of our reactions to the built environment are understood by trained professionals.

    Places can induce feelings of sadness. Some of these lonely benches increase those feelings.

    Is what you’re saying a code for “keeping places depressing”?

  6. Not at all. Streets aren’t a place to linger, they’re a space for movement. Not necessarily auto movement, mind you. If you sit waiting for a bus, that’s momentary and purposeful, and is part of your movement from one destination to the next. Parks, plazas, stoops, porches – those are public and semi-public spaces for lingering indefinitely, socializing, etc.

    Designers who treat a city street like a park fundamentally misunderstand how people will actually use a street. Not to say our streets can’t be beautiful, but that beauty always has to take a backseat to providing efficient mobility.

  7. I think “placemaking” means “transforming a location into something that a reasonable number of people would intentionally visit”. The idea is that the presence of people is generally a good for a place (it helps reduce crime and it helps make places feel more comfortable for those who are just passing through), so even if you disregard the desires of people to visit interesting places, it’s worthwhile to design our public spaces in such a way that people would intentionally visit them. But when you take into account the desires that people have to visit interesting places (especially low-income people whose houses may not be that nice to hang out in) it’s even more valuable.

  8. The last two pics actually don’t look that bad, for an attempt. They could have used some trees or bushes to brighten it up a bit, but better than nothing.

    Really hard to tell how crappy the spot is.

  9. Your assertion that “streets aren’t a place to linger” is one that is not shared. Humans have been living in cities for millenia and our streets have always had a blend of lingering and movement along a spectrum. It simply is not true that streets aren’t a place to linger. They most certainly are.

    Further, your phrase “efficient mobility” is such a loaded term I don’t even want to touch it. I wonder what you are measuring when you say “efficient”? There are as many types of efficiency as there are seconds in a day.

    We’re fundamentally at odds here. Your view of the role of public space is divided into “lingering vs. non-lingering” – a view that I do not share. The text books on placemaking, and New Urbanism, that I keep as reference do not share your view. Your views are shared by transportation engineers and many lay people in the U.S. I can’t fault you for feeling the way you do about these issues but I think that they are wrong both factually and, because of the effects of your views, wrong ethically or morally as well.

  10. A&W’s burgers were named after different members of the family. There was the Mama (single), Papa (double), Grandpa (triple) and Teen (a Mama with cheese and bacon). There was also a kid-size Happy Burger. They got rid of this concept in the ’70s, but a while back they brought back the Burger Family in Canada. I’ve also seen an Uncle Burger on the menu. Anyway, a Sriracha Teen is a Teen Burger with sriracha mayo and roasted red peppers added.

  11. Hoo boy, those are some weighty accusations.

    The modern incarnation of “placemaking” is frustrating to me. It rejects most architectural and engineering solutions to urban problems out of hand. Looking empirically at successful cities shows that both large-scale and small-scale strategies are necessary. The fact that most large-scale interventions in American cities tend to be road widenings does not, by itself, prove that large-scale interventions are a failed strategy.

    Rome is an urban triumph, but it doesn’t check any of the boxes you want to impose on cities. Its narrow streets are pretty much reserved for movement entirely. There are few trees, no benches, flowers, or other furnishings. Even the piazzas don’t have much in the way of furnishings, save for fountains. There are a lot of piazzas, though, and they are great for lingering.

  12. By nature, and this proves I’m not a New Urban Elite, I don’t necessarily want to linger restfully in a narrow corridor full of people rushing back and forth. Filling a narrow corridor with benches doesn’t really help, for me.
    Places where the pathway widens and traffic spreads and slows make me happier when I sit down. The piazza is much more restful than the sidewalk.
    And if the piazza is lined with shops and restaurants, all the better for business.

  13. In your own comment you have essentially embraced my position: “our streets have always had a blend of lingering and movement along a spectrum.”

    In front of my own business, where I sit now typing this comment, there is a street that is cordoned off to high speed automobile traffic. There is also an illegally placed bench built around a tree planter in paved, raised, sidewalk. People pass by on foot. People stop to linger on the bench, enjoying the shade of the tree and the shelter of the awning in front of my business. Movement is not 100% of the picture here, and few would ever want it to be, but movement and lingering are both a part of a spectrum of human behvaior that (in this case) was designed for. Your example of a narrow alley in Rome and of a piazza again point to a spectrum of human behavior.

    The initial comment about streets “not being places to linger” is silly and is trivially disproven.

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