September 21, 2016
The value of a place to sit
Opinion seems to be divided about the value of the humble public bench. Either they’re seen as a magnet for anti-social behaviour or as having a key role in fostering community cohesion and more generally, in slowing down the pace at which we lead our lives. And it is the former view that seems to be winning the day. Benches are being routinely removed from public places – particularly in towns and cities. You may not notice until the time comes when you need a seat. This simple feature of civic life has become the focus of some interesting new research.
A report released today by The Young Foundation finds that benches in our towns and cities, though easily overlooked, play a crucial role in social life. The report argues that benches are currently being removed from public spaces; damaging community life and social integration.
The report, Benches for everyone: solitude in public, sociability for free finds that benches foster inclusion and help diverse communities to interact. Benches provide a free place for different individuals or large groups to meet, a space for people to pause and feel a sense of belonging, and also serve as a necessary resting place for older people.
However, increasingly associated with attracting ‘antisocial behaviour’, benches have begun to be removed from towns and cities, or made deliberately uncomfortable to dissuade people from using them as meeting places.
The report argues that a lack of benches will disproportionately impact groups for whom other social spaces, such as coffee shops, are not available due to their cost or social codes. Instead of removing benches, people should be encouraged to use them through good planning, design and management of spaces.
Radhika Bynon, from the Young Foundation, said: “Benches are highly egalitarian, inviting anyone to become part of that place for a time. Without them, certain groups don’t have access to the public sphere. Benches may seem peripheral to the main issues of the day, but they connect to integration, housing, precarious employment, and corporate-led regeneration. Ultimately, benches support equality and we need more of them.”