Please Be Seated
By Charlie McCabe
Last year, the Center for City Park Excellence wrote a great article titled "If It Doesn't Have a Bench, Is It Still a Park?" that appeared in Parks and Recreation Magazine (you can download it here.
The good news is that benches aren't the only seating possibility in our parks and public spaces.
My personal experience in working in parks in Austin, TX, Boston, MA, and New York City has certainly given me the opportunity to consider (and fix, sand, re-paint, and clean) many a bench. While park benches are iconic, more and more parks and public spaces in cities and towns across the United States are using moveable chairs. Over the past decade, I've used three different types of these chairs, and thought it would be helpful to weigh in on the pros and cons of each and why you should consider moveable chairs for your park or public space.
We'll always have Paris The moveable seating movement (if you will) came from several parks in Paris, most notably Luxembourg Gardens. The bistro chair, often paired with small round tables and manufactured by Fermob , is portable, foldable, and easy to move and manage. With the re-birth of Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan, this became the chair of choice and about 10 years ago, cost about $35 each, making them reasonably affordable and relatively easy to replace. [Currently, the metal bistro chair is just over $108 retail.] Fermob has a wide variety of chairs and tables; another style we see more and more in city parks and in public spaces is the Luxembourg (as in Garden) side chair, which currently retails for about $350.
A more recent competitor is the Parc Centre Chair by Landscape Forms. More durable than the Fermob Bistro chair, as well as easy to slide across park spaces and stackable, they are also very durable and cost about $245 each, retail.There's also a matching table in varying sizes which cost up to $690 retail. The design is such that it's hard to stack and carry more than two, which makes them much more likely to stay put.
I've seen the Parc Center chairs in many colors in parks and plazas across the US in the past few years; I would bet they are the most popular currently. You can't go wrong–if you can afford them.
Inexpensive yet trendy
The Plastic Resin Adirondack Chair rounds out our options. Weighing in at just a few pounds, they cost $20 and are able to seat people up to 250 pounds. You can buy five for the price of one Fermob Bistro chair or 12 for the price of one Parc Centre chair. No, they won't last as long and yes, they can walk away. But, there are so many of them out there in our cities and towns that they probably won't, and, they are very awkward to carry, which make it harder for them to be "liberated."
These are my "go-to" option currently, as they allow you to experiment with seating in parks and plazas where there currently isn't any. And, they are stackable and lockable to pass the "300 pound drunk sailor rule"–a common saying by the Director of Operations for a park where I used to work.
One caveat: some people think they're tacky. Maybe, but with careful color choice and good care they will provide long lasting and attractive seating anywhere, for even the lowest budget.
Lock things up
After spending plenty of money on park seating, the last thing that you want to do is lose what you have. Generally, the ability to stack the seating and use loop cabling and a strong padlock will do the trick. For any of the chairs, just stack them so the pile is too heavy to pick up. Then, slip a cable around the seat and through the back opening and secure it with a padlock.
For the Parc Centre Chairs and Tables, put four chairs around the table and use a cable that pulls one leg of each chair tight under the table and secure it with a padlock. The Rose Kennedy Greenway uses this approach and it works great, since the combined weight of the table and four chairs is at least several hundred pounds.