Could better seating make Pioneer Park more inviting?

Salt Lake City’s Pioneer Park is a great urban space, but it has a lot of problems. One of the biggest is an almost complete lack of seating. Aside from a few pointlessly-positioned benches on noisy street corners and a few concrete seats in the middle, there’s nothing. And the park covers ten acres. It’s absurd.

Pioneer Park in Salt Lake City

Pioneer Park in Salt Lake City

Of course, one possible explanation for the lack of seating is the abundance of homeless people — a serious topic that’s beyond the scope of this post. However, that issue notwithstanding, better seating would make the park more appealing and more useable for all kinds of people. It’s a relatively easy thing to fix and would increase the return on the investment in the park by enhancing, diversifying, and increasing usage.

So what kind of seating would be best?

I’m a fan of seating that offers the chance for interactions. So, seats that help me converse with companions or visitors. That means benches or chairs facing each other, spaced close together and at least arranged in something more than long rows all facing the same direction.

Or, seats that are placed in sufficiently peaceful and interesting locations that they encourage observation, reflection or the chance to people watch.

The current seating options in Pioneer Park fail at both objectives.

One easy and cheap remedy would be to install movable seating. As the Project for Public Spaces explains, movable seating is probably the best kind of seating:

Probably the best kind of seating is the moveable chair. Not perfect in every situation, it is nearly so in most. Why? Several reasons. Firstly, chairs are more comfortable than benches. Secondly, they’re inexpensive. Costs vary, but you can provide roughly 10 moveable chairs for the price of one bench (or even less).

Thirdly, people can arrange chairs how they like, to sit nearer or farther apart, and move them around to either sun or shade.

Case in point: City Creek.

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Movable seating also turned a busy street corner in New York near Union Square into a lively little park:

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Also, Boston has deployed movable chairs in a highway-to-park conversion (on the left):

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I know that movable seating in pioneer park would be a tough sell. Theft in that area is not entirely uncommon and I suspect there would be concerns, justified or not, about the chairs disappearing. Luckily, however, movable seating isn’t the only option.

The picture below shows semicircular benches in Madrid. I took this picture before the nearby museum opened, so there weren’t many people around yet. I like these benches because they can be communal, allowing users to face each other, or not.

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The picture below shows two benches in Salt Lake City that accomplish something different. The benches don’t actually see much use, but I’d argue that that’s because the surrounding street lacks the right kinds, quality and diversity of destinations.

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I could go on and on (and in few days I’ll post some more pictures of interesting public seating).

But for now, it’s worth keeping in mind that when it comes to Pioneer Park, almost anything would be an improvement.

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