Competitive cities In the modern world, people and money are mobile. For cities and the business who invest in them this means competition. Making your city the best place to live, work, study or visit has brought an increased importance to urban design and regeneration. A major factor in the quality of a public space is the street furniture. The humble bin, bollard, light or seat are the elements of a scheme that the public is most directly connected with. They are the elements that are on the most human scale.
Traditionally street furniture has been the responsibility of the local councils. Often this has meant that cost and durability have been the most important design factors. More recently however street furniture has come to be viewed as an opportunity to create better quality public spaces and provide a positive and pleasurable experience to the cities users. Pleasure plus principle To understand why this is so and how it can be achieved we need to view street furniture as something other than a means of providing for basic needs. Traditionally street furniture has provided a positive experience by removing a negative one.
For example, a bin allows you to dispose of rubbish you might be carrying, whilst a bench would allow you to rest for a while. However, within the context of competitive cities we have the impetus to move beyond the basic needs of a user. To develop a competitive edge we need to provide additional, pleasurable experiences to a user, experiences that will help to create positive associations with a particular location. Achieving increased use through positive experiences To do this we need to understand how positive experiences can be described and how these might relate to street furniture. Lionel Tiger in his book "The Pursuit of Pleasure" describe four broad categories of pleasure.
These are outlined below. The first is pleasure that can be derived from the physical aspects of an object. This relates to an objects style, its materials and its quality.
In street furniture there has been an increase in both design and material quality, particularly in the use of materials such as stainless steel and granite. This is important in developing brand associations for companies investing in cities. Attracting retail business with a certain brand image to an area becomes easier if they can relate to the quality of the street furniture within the public space.
The second type of pleasure that can identified is that which can be derived from the relationship with others. This is a very important aspect of zstreet furniture design. It relates closely to the principles of urban anthropology and how people think and act within an urban space.
A simple example exists when we look at a particular demographic, that of teenagers. Teenagers often spend long periods of time within the urban environment and are often in larger than normal groups. This means that the traditional three seat bench would not meet their needs.
Providing alternate forms of seating within an area that also meets their retail needs would create a positive experience of the place for this group The third area looks that the increasing popularity of people making choices based upon an ethical belief. This offers an opportunity to develop products that provide positive experiences through ideological connections. Prominent at the moment are environmental issues, street furniture products that align with these beliefs such as solar lighting, cycle stands that raise the profile of this form of transport or seating produced from recycled materials will create positive associations for some users. The final method of creating a positive experience is the pleasure that can be derived from stimulating thought or emotion.
The average person in the street has many things on their mind and drawing them out of their own thoughts requires something unusual or out of the ordinary. There are a number of art projects that have used street furniture to achieve this. For example a project by the art group Greybeard provided live videolinks between two benches allowing users to communicate with people sitting on seats in different cities.
Using any of these methods as a design philosophy for street furniture can help to develop a competitive edge for a development project. This can increase the use of a particular area by a targeted demographic, bringing the associated economic benefits and the potential of growth for a given area.
Summary of seminar "Happiness is-rethinking street furniture" delivered as a part of 'Designing quality spaces, improving the public realm though design' at Cityscape 2007 by Tristan Williams, Creative director Citysquared. For a more detailed discussion on street furniture please see www.citysquared.co.uk