please be seated : a sideways look at benches

Seating is important to teenage girls - here's some inspiration

November 9, 2022
February 22, 2023
Susannah Walker
Good Ideas
Design professionals
Share this post

We’ve been talking about safety quite a bit on social media recently, and as part of that, someone made a really interesting comment about how park seating could work better for women and girls.

“Benches or other seating in dedicated areas, eg around a garden or bandstand, rather than spread out alongside and facing a footpath (where passers-by can more easily make uncomfortable comments or try to engage in conversation)”
RoseAnnieFlo, on Twitter

We’ve been advocating for social seating for a while now, because it’s one of the things that teenage girls most want to see in parks, but had never thought of this aspect of traditional park seating before.  But it’s absolutely true.  Different shapes and layouts can make women feel safer and less exposed to the opinions and comments of random passers-by (who are, yes, generally men and boys).

The good news is that there are lots of different options out there already – we think that a pair of these facing each other would work brilliantly as a teenage seating area.

Teenagers sitting on stepped seating in a public plaza

How about building something like these, which are in the grounds of a school in Barcelona.

Concrete seating and picnic tables built into a slight slope in the grass in school grounds

And there are plenty more brilliant ideas out there too. These are called Meeting Bowls but they look pretty social to me.

Large barrel shaped structures made from wood lattice with seats in

Perhaps we also need to think about seating a bit differently.  Recently, someone pointed us at some American research about how people behave in urban plazas.  It’s a modern take on the classic work of William H Whyte on public spaces in cities, but specifically looking at how people sit.

It’s really worth reading the whole thing, but some suggestions would seem to work particularly well for parks and teenage girls, like the idea of spaces where young people are part audience, part the show.

Teenagers occupying the plazas wanted to both see what was going on around them, and to be seen. During their time in the space, they toggled back and forth between these roles. Adjacent circulation increased the popularity of these spaces.

Diagram of how people like to sit on steps in plazas

Design solutions which permit this include creating informal platforms – definitely something which appeals to teenage girls – and allowing for people to face in multiple directions.

Teenagers like to sit on the highest seat available and also bask in the sun on soft surfaces.

Diagram of how people like to sit on grassy slopes

The design guidance is to “offer a range of lizarding opportunities”. I’ve never thought of teenagers as reptiles before but apparently this is so.

Another observation is that some people gravitate to seating which has a solid surface behind.

Diagram of how people like to sit with a wall behind them

A solution which might, in some spaces, make women and girls feel safer.

But the reason that Twitter comment made me think of this report is this image here, because it’s the perfect solution.

Diagram of how people like seating in niches

Areas which are slightly set back from the main traffic yet which still have good visibility. I’d go for that.

There’s plenty more inspiration in the report, and you can read the whole thing here – it’s well worth your time in doing. Perhaps while you are sitting down.

Sign up to our newsletter

Get news, events and more, direct to your inbox.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.
Your subscription could not be saved. Please try again.
Your subscription has been successful.
Cookie Consent

By clicking “Accept”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to analyse site usage. View our Privacy Policy for more information.