How to make benches Idea-Friendly

A couple of people lately have mentioned wanting to add new benches in their downtown. I’m all for that. When you give people a place to sit, especially in a comfortable place, they’re more likely to linger. And we want people to linger downtown. It’s good for business. 

First was Fred Kent from PPS Placemaking who mentioned a town where people were told that benches on the sidewalk were illegal so they built tree guards at bench height. (They built wooden boxes around the trees to protect them from damage, but just the right height to sit on. Sneaky!) 

One small town person said she is being held back from her bench idea because the chamber of commerce is sitting on a master plan for downtown, including benches, and doesn’t want to do any part of it until they can do the whole downtown project all at once. The chamber person said, “We can’t build a house by building one window at a time.” I’d say that our town is not like a single house with one unified plan. The future of our town is more like a coral reef, with lots of tiny contributions by individuals to build a pleasing whole, but no master plan and no one in charge.   

Another small town couple told me they had some older benches along a walking trail that were made with standard lumber slats that had weathered down until they were all splintery. The smart guy found some vinyl fence material that slips over the 2x4s, covering the splinters. It’s like they slipcovered their trail benches! Love it!  

Another group told me they are looking to upgrade their existing downtown benches to better quality matching benches, so they had asked local businesses to each sponsor a bench. After hearing my talk and walking around with our group of other local leaders in Kendrick, Idaho, they decided to involve the crowd. They’re going to reach out to individuals and invite them to sponsor benches as well.

But I think we can take this much further. Let’s give up on having all the benches match. Does anyone really care if your benches match? Let’s make them creative, interesting conversation starters. Let’s invite everyone in town to build benches. Let’s go crazy and allow any design that anyone wants to try to build. Let’s connect everyone with inspiration like these crazy benches from all over. Let’s connect designers with builders. Let’s connect people who come up with wild ideas to people who can make those ideas solid. 

You can see the Idea Friendly behaviors at work here. Instead of a few people in charge deciding for everyone and doing only a few big projects, we’re focused on putting an idea out there to Gather Your Crowd, then Building Connections so people together are more capable, then Taking Small Steps, giving small but meaningful involvement to everyone.

What about you? Do you have a good bench story to share? Hit reply and tell me about it.

Keep shaping the future of your town, 

PS – Seriously, go look at these crazy benches from all over.