“… and public seating is genuinely democratic”
With The Irish Wheelchair Association & Ballycumber Active Age Group.
By Julie Spollen
Access to somewhere to sit, gets you more active. Counter- intuitively, sitting out, encourages walking! With the recent enhancement of Tullamore and other towns country wide we should now be able to tune in and see the wider picture; in that now there are decent footpaths, there is access for all members of our community to get out and about daily, in particular wheelchair users and others that for years have been disenfranchised by past their performance date footpaths. The scheme has been positive and enabling addition to our community. More seating arrangements will hopefully follow, because while obviously you sit on a bench, studies show that people will do a lot more local walking if there is somewhere to go to and sit.
“Benches are symbols of what it means for a space to be shared”
High streets, parks & other public spaces all play an important role in bringing the community together. It is in these places where people meet that seating allows people to physically pace themselves, enjoy time together or just relax. It may also be a place of learning & observation, where you are able to see the diversity of cultures & identities that make up your local area. Age Friendly suggest that more benches are a must for our older members of our community. Outdoor seating reduces isolation & is a critical part of our daily social life. Opportunities for social connection are important, particularly for those living on their own. Anyone can sit, at no cost, as seating provides a free opportunity to be part of the community. It is extremely important that public spaces are welcoming & offer a place to sit. Seating gives people a stopping point, a place to meet, to be & put simply a place to sit & Smell the Roses.
“Places are made better by people being in them”
As a socially engaged artist in the community I recently worked with a diverse range of community groups as regards to the public realm and a vision for our area, and seating came up frequently, the artistic outcomes and responses were on display @atrium.
Benches capture the imagination of designers & more alternatives to traditional outdoor seating are being created. There are some great examples of multipurpose & unusual benches, delivering numerous interchangeable seating positions, which can create all sorts of possibilities for connections & interactions. Areas that are not only for sitting but performance & play areas where communal creativity can happen. When a space is shared, everyone benefits – studies show that shared places become safer & more interesting. We always pass through places; sometimes it’s good to just be somewhere & feel a sense of belonging, have a conversation & get connected in a non digital way. The park bench provides a free, communal & accessible public space for all. Well-made, comfortable benches are a great community resource in the public realm, metal & concrete while aesthetically pleasing are not for comfort or suitable in cold & damp climates. Disabling features are counter productive, just mean & create a negative space.
Yes, there are genuine concerns around benches attracting anti social behaviour, but in spite of this, good seating always gives energy to public spaces and has a positive impact on health and wellbeing. Heightened particularly during the pandemic many factors conspire to keep us inside but daylight & sunshine have a significant impact on mental health & contribute to wellbeing in numerous ways. For example Vitamin D from sensible sun exposure appears essential in preventing 16 different types of cancer, including melanoma, with a host of other health problems like depression, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dementia, fractures & infections. Having somewhere to sit allows you to spend longer in the fresh air and all that energy which is what we all need to remain positive.