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.
How about building something like these, which are in the grounds of a school in Barcelona.
And there are plenty more brilliant ideas out there too. These are called Meeting Bowls but they look pretty social to me.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.