Monday, October 21, 2013

Link to original article with photos

The people at the University City District plan to cut down trees in West Philly and turn them into benches. No that’s not true, it’s rather almost just the opposite. Actually, UCD plans to unleash a collection of “tree seats,” set in the shade by next spring. UCD was one of four winners of a City Hall Civic Design Challenge, which provides a $3,900 Knight Foundation-backed grant by the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics, which UCD will match to fund the project.

The idea is simple. The majority of benches, green spaces aside, sit along the street in University City right out in the sun. So the folks at UCD, who are always thinking of seemingly easy ways to animate public spaces (think The Porch, then think the green wall installed to block Porch goers’ view from the ongoing 30th Street Station construction improvements), figured, let’s put a few seats in the shade. It’s not building a 30-story spiral glass structure, it’s just thinking of a way to get out of that darn sun that can benefit anyone. A less simple name for the improvements is tactical urbanism, according to Nate Hommel, Capital Projects Manager at UCD. Tactical urbanism is an official term for the simple concept of implementing small changes and improvements that make for a large difference, like streetscapes or new lighting. The Porch is one great example of how a platoon of multi-colored seats and tables can turn a thick strip of sidewalk into a vibrant public space. So are other small UCD projects like the pedestrian plazas, Woodland Green, at 42nd & Woodland across from the University of the Sciences, and Baltimore Crossing, at 48th & Baltimore.

The design for the tree seats will be conjured in-house, and there may be a pilot program this winter to see how the seats take off. Expect up to 15 new shaded seats throughout West Philly this spring. –Lou Mancinelli