We have a great tradition of public seating in the UK. Our parks are full of sturdy, dependable park benches that have been around for years, and our streetscapes contain both older benches that are still in use beside newer seating installed in recent times. The park bench in particular, provides free, communal, accessible public space for all.
Places are made better by people being in them. So to encourage you to get out there, here are a few reasons to remind you why sitting on a bench is a good thing.
This might not strike you as an intellectual bombshell, but people like to sit where there are places for them to sit.”
William H. Whyte (Urbanist, journalist, people watcher and mentor of Project for Public Spaces)
Public seating provides an opportunity to rest
Resting is important, individually and communally. Well-made, comfortable park benches are great for resting. Our parasympathetic nervous system kicks in outdoors so that we feel calmer and more peaceful, even in an urban setting (though sitting near to nature – plants, trees, water, grass – amplifies this relaxing effect and is a natural mood-booster). So break up that crazy, busy routine and stop for a while; just breathe, enjoy the view or watch the world go by. You will get up re-energised and renewed.
Having somewhere to sit allows you to spend longer in the fresh air
Many factors conspire to keep us inside but daylight and sunshine have a significant impact on mental health and contribute to wellbeing in numerous ways – not least by upping your Vitamin D levels. Vitamin D from sensible sun exposure appears essential in preventing 16 different types of cancer, including melanoma, and a host of other health problems like depression, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dementia, fractures, and infections. In fact, optimising your Vitamin D with sun exposure may cut your risk of dying from all causes in half. Sit on that park bench a bit longer if you can.
Outdoor seating reduces isolation
Opportunities for social connection are important, particularly for those living on their own. Also when space is shared, everyone benefits – studies show that shared places become safer and more interesting. We are always passing through places; sometimes its good to just be somewhere and feel a sense of belonging. Go and sit on a park bench, have a conversation with someone and get connected in a non-digital way.
Public seating is genuinely democratic
Anyone can sit, at no cost, as seating provides a free opportunity to linger – not to be underestimated in today’s world of market forces. Take a packed lunch and embrace some much needed simplicity.
Access to somewhere to sit gets you more active
Obviously you sit on a bench, but studies show that people will do a lot more local walking if there is somewhere to go and sit. So surprisingly and counter-intuitively, sitting outdoors encourages walking.
Park benches can also be an exercise opportunity
Who said benches are just for sitting? There is a ground swell of interest in seeing public seating as an exercise opportunity. Seating can be used as a stable base for all kinds of full-body exercise. Even perching and balancing on the back of park benches gives your core a bit of a workout. Leg lunges anyone?
Benches continue to capture the imagination of designers and more and more alternatives to traditional outdoor seating are being created. There are some great examples of more unusual benches delivering numerous interchangeable seating positions, which can create all sorts of possibilities for connections and interactions.
Rather than encouraging users to stay in one position, these benches allow for multiple functions and dynamic movement like stretching, playing, and lounging. For instance Goose Foot Street Furniture’s bespoke design for Colwyn Bay, while being architecturally striking, also actively promotes lolling about and sunbathing.
There are genuine concerns around benches attracting anti-social behaviour, but, in spite of this, good seating always gives energy to public spaces and has a positive impact on health and wellbeing.
Interested in reading more? Check out this great read THE BENCH PROJECT by the Young Foundation.