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Please Be Seated

By Charlie McCabe

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Parc Centre chairs and tables, The Rose Kennedy Greenway, Boston

Last year, the Center for City Park Excellence wrote a great article titled “If It Doesn’t Have a Bench, Is It Still a Park?” that appeared in Parks and Recreation Magazine (you can download it here.

The good news is that benches aren’t the only seating possibility in our parks and public spaces.

My personal experience in working in parks in Austin, TX, Boston, MA, and  New York City has certainly given me the opportunity to consider (and fix, sand, re-paint, and clean) many a bench. While park benches are iconic, more and more parks and public spaces in cities and towns across the United States are using moveable chairs. Over the past decade, I’ve used three different types of these chairs, and thought it would be helpful to weigh in on the pros and cons of each and why you should consider moveable chairs for your park or public space.

We’ll always have Paris The moveable seating movement (if you will) came from several parks in Paris, most notably Luxembourg Gardens. The bistro chair, often paired with small round tables and manufactured by Fermob , is portable, foldable, and easy to move and manage. With the re-birth of Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan, this became the chair of choice and about 10 years ago, cost about $35 each, making them reasonably affordable and relatively easy to replace.  [Currently, the metal bistro chair is just over $108 retail.] Fermob has a wide variety of chairs and tables; another style we see more and more in city parks and in public spaces is the Luxembourg (as in Garden) side chair, which currently retails for about $350.

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Fermob Bistro Chairs (and Tables), The Boston Common.

Midwestern Roots

A more recent competitor is the Parc Centre Chair by Landscape Forms. More durable than the Fermob Bistro chair, as well as easy to slide across park spaces and stackable, they are also very durable and cost about $245 each, retail.There’s also a matching table in varying sizes which cost up to $690 retail. The design is such that it’s hard to stack and carry more than two, which makes them much more likely to stay put.

I’ve seen the Parc Center chairs in many colors in parks and plazas across the US in the past few years; I would bet they are the most popular currently. You can’t go wrong–if you can afford them.

Inexpensive yet trendy

The Plastic Resin Adirondack Chair rounds out our options. Weighing in at just a few pounds, they cost $20 and are able to seat people up to 250 pounds. You can buy five for the price of one Fermob Bistro chair or 12 for the price of one Parc Centre chair. No, they won’t last as long and yes, they can walk away. But, there are so many of them out there in our cities and towns that they probably won’t, and, they are very awkward to carry, which make it harder for them to be “liberated.”

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Relaxing in Adirondack Chairs, Dewey Square Park, Boston

These are my “go-to” option currently, as they allow you to experiment with seating in parks and plazas where there currently isn’t any. And, they are stackable and lockable to pass the “300 pound drunk sailor rule”–a common saying by the Director of Operations for a park where I used to work.

One caveat: some people think they’re tacky. Maybe, but with careful color choice and good care they will provide long lasting and attractive seating anywhere, for even the lowest budget.

Lock things up

After spending plenty of money on park seating, the last thing that you want to do is lose what you have.  Generally, the ability to stack the seating and use loop cabling and a strong padlock will do the trick.  For any of the chairs, just stack them so the pile is too heavy to pick up. Then, slip a cable around the seat and through the back opening and secure it with a padlock.

For the Parc Centre Chairs and Tables, put four chairs around the table and use a cable that pulls one leg of each chair tight under the table and secure it with a padlock.  The Rose Kennedy Greenway uses this approach and it works great, since the combined weight of the table and four chairs is at least several hundred pounds.

Do you have a favorite chair for parks and public spaces? Or more questions?  Write us at ccpe@tpl.org

City Parks in the News

Catherine Nagel, Executive Director of City Parks Alliance, writes about the need to fund park development and management, the importance of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and thanks Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell for her leadership in supporting urban parks in her latest opinion, For Most Americans, Their Closest Park is a City Park. The piece was published in City Parks Blog and Medium.


The Mayors for Parks coalition recently released a statement inviting Presidential candidates to answer questions about how they plan to support urban parks and recreation. The Clinton campaign responded with an outline of Secretary Clinton’s plan to increase federal investment in urban parks by creating a new American Parks Trust Fund, funding the Urban Parks and Recreation Recovery Program (UPARR), and providing an additional $10 million annually to AmeriCorps. The Trump campaign has not responded to the coalition’s request.


Next City published 5 Ways U.S. Cities Are Paying for Parks, a piece that highlights some of the innovative ways agencies and communities are paying for the development and management of urban parks. The piece quotes Catherine Nagel, saying “it’s heartening to see how the growing demand for parks is driving innovative approaches to funding.” This article is part of a series of sponsored posts by City Parks Alliance.

Whatever the Weather: A Guide to Resilient Design

We’ve been feeling the effects of climate change a lot lately—drought in California, record highs of up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit in Arizona, hurricanes and superstorms—to name just a few. Atmospheric scientists now say the carbon dioxide levels may have permanently surpassed 400 ppm. It’s safe to say this bad weather is probably only going to get worse.

With this in mind, the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) recently released a guide on resilient design, aimed at helping communities better weather these events, and rebuild quicker when destruction does happen. To quote from the press release, it “includes numerous case studies and resources demonstrating multi-benefit systems as well as the small-scale solutions that fit within those. The guide also explains landscape architects’ role in the planning and design teams helping to make communities more resilient.”

Ultimately, the guide emphasizes that “working with nature, instead of in opposition to it” is the way forward. Much of our current large-scale infrastructure (think walls, dams, and sewers) is ill-equipped to handle today’s extreme weather, and is only becoming more expensive to build and maintain. Resilient landscape planning offers ways to mitigate these threats in a multi-faceted way as opposed to the traditional single-solution approach which, when it fails, offers no backup.

The guide is organized around six types of natural disasters. Each section discusses how resilient design can be used, outlines some co-benefits (part of the strength of these techniques comes from the fact that many play more than one role, or can have more than one impact), and details more specifically how landscape planning can be used in implementing a design. This portion of the guide is fairly brief, but is bolstered by a number of case studies and other resources.

Resilient planning to support biodiversity emphasizes the important role that varied species—both flora and fauna—play within an ecosystem by enhancing the services that it provides. Some possible approaches include habitat restoration, planting with biodiversity in mind, and building wildlife corridors.

Planning for drought takes a number of different approaches, from utilizing gray water for watering lawns, to landscaping with drought resistant plants, to designing to best capture and direct precious water resources.

Design approaches to dealing with extreme heat mostly center around vegetation; planting and maintaining a tree canopy, and increasing green wherever else possible, such as green roofs and alleys.

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Before (2007) and after (2013) comparison of a NYC Parks Green Roofs Project. (Credit: NYC Parks Green Roofs)

Fires are a significant threat and are perhaps the most difficult to plan for out of all of the disasters discussed. Planting fire-resistant vegetation can help, and landscape design can be used to create “defensible spaces” to help slow or stop a spreading fire.

Resilient design offers a few approaches to planning for flooding, including preserving riparian areas and ecosystems to act as buffers or channels, and designing parks and other green space to capture, hold, and filter water.

Cromwell Park

Cromwell Park in Shoreline, WA can hold an acre-foot of water (almost 435,000 gallons), enough to eliminate the neighborhood flooding problem. (Credit: City of Shoreline)

Proper design and planning is key to preventing landslides. Working with the natural contours of the land, utilizing vegetation and root systems to combat erosion, and carefully selecting or even strengthening the soil can all help lessen this threat.

The resources offered range from federal research and guides (such as from EPA and NOAA), to interviews with experts in each topic, to National Geographic articles. Perhaps even more useful are the case studies, which include everything from site-specific project pages to city-wide master plans. ASLA has created a guide that has a lot to offer in the way of inspiration and direction for those looking for ways to start planning for the future.

Benches Can Pay Their Way

This article has been adapted from the September 2016 issue of Parks & Recreation Magazine, the official publication of the National Recreation and Park Association. Through its pursuit of key issues, trends, and personalities, the magazine advances American parks, recreation, and conservation efforts. You can read the full-length article here.

This is the third and final installment in a series on park benches. Read the previous two posts here and here.

Benches are some of the cheapest park furnishings or landscaping items (even cheaper than trees), but the cost of purchase, installation and maintenance still adds up. Steve Schuckman, superintendent of planning, design, and facilities with the Cincinnati Park Board, says that buying and installing a practical, aesthetically pleasing, and durable bench costs between $1,500 and $2,000. In Kansas City the standard design comes to about $900. The 2002 master plan for Pittsburgh’s Allegheny Commons put the cost of modest benches at $1,200 each.

One way to cover expenses is through an adopt-a-bench program. Flourishing in many cities across the U.S., sponsorships take the shape of a small memorial plaque in return for the purchase, installation, and maintenance of a bench. (Many park agencies or conservancies stipulate that the memorial lasts for either the lifetime of the bench or for a certain number of years, whichever ends first). The cost varies by city and by park, but is generally around $2,000. In Austin, eleven of the city’s parks have already reached their bench donation limit. In New York’s Central Park, the Central Park Conservancy’s program (at $10,000 per bench) has yielded benefactors for over 4,200 of the park’s more than 9,000 benches. Kate O’Brien, development associate for the Broadway Mall Association, calls the Mall’s bench sponsorship program “a really good source of revenue.” Of the 340 benches from 70th Street to 168th Street, 39 are adopted.

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A plaque on a bench in Central Park. Photo credit: Flickr user gigi_nyc

Because of the popularity, some programs have had to institute rules. The Pittsburgh Park Conservancy gives wording guidelines, has a character count, and does not allow logos. “This program is a nice way to honor loved ones,” says the conservancy’s Susan Rademacher, “but if we have too many memorial benches, it may detract from the feeling that the park is a common space meant for everyone.”

For O’Brien, seeking bench sponsorships is a joy of her job. She says, “Donors always have a great story about their connection to the park. Something like, ‘I’ve lived here for 40 years and always drink my coffee on this bench.’” Benches often have an association with an important moment or a special person. There are plaques commemorating births, deaths, marriages, and everything in between, including pets. Beyond helping to fund conservancies or park maintenance, bench sponsorship programs allow people to interact with and form a special, and tangible, connection to a certain park.

As this series of posts has illustrated, benches can be both a joy and a bane for park-goers and parks departments. But it does seem to be clear that when a bench is removed, its park loses more than just a piece of furniture. Maybe Adrian Benepe, senior vice president of The Trust for Public Land and former commissioner of parks for New York City, is correct when he says, “It’s like everything else — you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.” Or maybe it’s more alarming, as put by Tampa Parks Director Greg Bayor: “If you start removing benches then you’re on the way to removing everything else too.”

Making Benches Work

This article has been adapted from the September 2016 issue of Parks & Recreation Magazine, the official publication of the National Recreation and Park Association. Through its pursuit of key issues, trends, and personalities, the magazine advances American parks, recreation, and conservation efforts. You can read the full-length article here.

This is the second post in a three-part series on park benches. Read the first post here.

When faced with citizen complaints and potential bench misuse, what are cities to do? Are park agencies simply doomed to be pummeled by anti-bench complainers and to then be criticized by outraged bench-lovers and park-lingerers when they remove the “problem”? Some cities have succeeded in saving their benches and maintaining parks that are safe and enjoyable for all, but it certainly requires creativity and resourcefulness, and no two cases are alike.

In the 1980s and ‘90s, when Baltimore’s Patterson Park faced the problem of inappropriate use of benches, they were steadily removed until none were left. This supposed fix didn’t actually meet park users’ needs; to the contrary, when users were asked in a 1995 survey what would make a “big improvement” in the park, 56 percent said more benches. Now, with the revived park getting much more visitation, the benches are gradually being brought back. The benefits are striking, according to Jennifer Robinson, director of Friends of Patterson Park. Patrons spend more time in the park, she says, and some are even putting the benches to use for strength-building. (That idea isn’t unusual; there is even an exercise book, 101 Things to Do on a Park Bench.”)  Not only did removing benches fail to fix the park’s problems, it actually did the exact opposite. Robinson feels strongly that the new benches were a factor in the park’s comeback.

But more isn’t all.

“Benches have to be located thoughtfully,” Robinson says. “They have to make sense with the flow of the park.” This means in areas of high activity (such as near playgrounds or sports fields), along pathways, and just inside park entrances. Putting them in well-trafficked areas helps ensure that they are used properly. There are now about 30 benches in Patterson Park – not enough, but an improvement.

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Benches thoughtfully located along a park pathway. Photo credit: Flickr user Pawel Pacholec.

The director of the Kansas City Parks Department, Mark McHenry, is even more explicit when he thinks about users’ needs, saying “Any feature that is traditionally put in a park, you’re going to want a bench to go with it.” In particular, he cites the need at dog parks (for owners to socialize), playgrounds (ditto, not to mention the quick snack or diaper change), and sports fields or courts.

In Pittsburgh’s Allegheny Commons, benches were removed from the central promenade because the community took issue with the noise and commotion that seemed to always hover around them. But the problem may have been more due to layout. With the benches directly facing each other across the pathway, groups often gathered on each side, talking loudly across the distance and making walkers feel threatened and uncomfortable. But the loss from the removal was keenly felt, and a new master plan calls for their restoration – this time in a new, staggered configuration that hopefully addresses the problem.

In the case of Norfolk, where many benches were removed from three different parks because of crime, the city first thinned the surrounding landscape, hoping that would solve the problem. In order to prevent sleeping, some places purchase (or retrofit) benches with obtrusive armrests at appropriate intervals. Both approaches can help, although the only true fix comes from a culture of heavy use, proper utilization, and the awareness that there are eyes on the park – including, every now and then, the eyes of rule-enforcing authority.