Thursday, September 25, 2008

Places to rest

Here are two recent items about public seating, in Gothamist and the Park(ing) Day NYC blog:

Perfectly functional chairs are rescued from trash piles and reassigned to stations where limited seating options leave subway patrons no choice but to stand for extended periods of time.

“Rest areas,” otherwise known as “parking spaces” are reserved for motorized vehicles in between trips, but where can the people go to rest in between trips? Must we always spring for a latte or a beer to get some relief?

No question that it's hard to find a comfortable place to sit in many subway stations and sidewalks. What's missing is the understanding (or acknowledgment) that much of this is by design.

I remember New York in the 1970s, when you could find a comfortable seat at the Port Authority Bus Terminal. You could also find a locker to store your bags while you strolled around the neighborhood took the subway someplace else. There were, generally, more benches on sidewalks and in subway stations. There were also more public bathrooms.

These amenities were removed by civic leaders and bureaucrats who felt that they "attracted the homeless." I'm sure they did, but come on, don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Sadly, for them public seating was probably not valuable enough to be compared to a baby. They could always find a restaurant or office to sit down in, and a private bathroom to pee in. Many of them probably had cars to keep their stuff in. So they didn't use these benches, bathrooms and lockers very much, and they didn't see any reason to keep them around.

Park(ing) Day will not result in more street benches unless it somehow convinces the BID leaders of the value of street benches, and deals with the issue of homeless people sleeping on them. The Take a Seat Project will probably not result in more subway station benches unless it does something similar with the MTA management.

It's good to call attention to the need. Now let's deal with the obstacles to meeting that need.


Ellie said...

I would love having lockers back in NYC full-scale! I hate lugging around tons of stuff when I shouldn't have to!

Cap'n Transit said...

Update: Planetizen linked to this article about how many more benches Montreal has than Toronto.

Elizabeth Brown said...

(I know this is a little tardy, but I just found this post:) It might be cool, if feasible, to do some kind of "sit in," on a large scale, a day where people all over the city sit in all the places where there should be chairs but aren't, like bus stops, subway platforms, sidewalks in nice areas, etc. People could sit on the ground or on newspapers or bring chairs with them. I'm inspired by the Improv Everywhere No-Pants-Day type of thing.