Public places to sit for a bit make communities, spaces and places more livable for people of all ages. The AARP Community Challenge has funded lots of needed places to sit — in parks and on plazas, along hiking trails and at transit stops. The variety and creativity displayed through public seating projects is inspiring. (Click on the image to "visit" the community.)
To bring attention to its lesser-known parks, the city hosted a bench decorating contest followed by a scavenger hunt to find the benches. Boy Scouts and high school students in wood-working classes built the six benches, local artists and community groups decorated them.
Four benches were placed along the "universal access" trail in the Pine Street Woods, a destination that is regularly visited by people of all ages and mobility abilities. To bring attention to the trail's debut, volunteers with the Kaniksu Land Trust led walks and snowshoe tours.
The city removed 250-square-feet of asphalt from a parking lot in its downtown and turned it into parking for people by creating the Fiske Avenue Pocket Park. The space has benches, a chess table (the game store across the street is the keeper of the playing pieces), a bike repair station, a pollinator garden and a quirky bee sculpture (pictured). The small-scale success helped in securing a $200,000 grant from the state's Department of Transportation to relocate the parking lot and expand the park. The centrally located green space has enabled Greenfield to both live up to its name and declare about itself: "There are many reasons to PARK yourself in Greenfield for the day!"
Hot Springs, Arkansas
To bring more attention to the musical history mural along Malvern Avenue, the city installed a new sidewalk, plaque, art, greenery and musically-inspired bench. The work was among the first reinvestments in an area that was known from the 1930s to 1960s as “Black Broadway” due to its many entertainment venues and frequent performances by legendary entertainers including Count Baise, Duke Ellington, B.B. King and others.
Roswell, New Mexico
For several years, MainStreet Roswell collected, sorted and stored plastic bottle caps and container lids (see inset photo) for an effort it called "Bottlecaps to Benches." Once a significant number were collected, bags full of caps and lids were loaded onto a tractor trailer (top image) and driven to a Green Tree Plastics in Indiana, where they were exchanged for 30 benches (bottom image) made from recycled plastic. The benches were placed throughout the city's downtown, which is visited by well over 200,000 tourists a year. "Our summer in the Southwestern desert can be brutal with daytime temperatures reaching up to 112 F," notes Molly Boyles, a MainStreet Roswell board member. "Seating has always been lacking for those needing to take a break."
Four new benches, manufactured by a local metalworks shop, were installed along the newly improved Tanglewood Trail. Matching funds raised by local businesses and individual donors ultimately surpassed the funds given by the AARP Community Challenge grant and will be put toward the long-term goal of expanding the trail to the top of Pine Mountain, where it will join the 1,800 mile Great Eastern Trail.
Chino Valley and Fort Defiance, Arizona
Yavapai Regional Transit in Chino Valley and the Navajo Transit System in Fort Defiance used AARP grant funds to install much-needed bus shelters. On the day of the installation in Chino Valley, a frequent rider (pictured) asked if she could sit on the bench just to try it out. Navajo Nation acquired eight shelters (the inset image shows an example), which are just a fraction of what's needed to serve the people living on the vast, remote expanse of tribal land.
Jackson Hole, Wyoming
While it’s true that older people often need to take a break when they’re out and about, so do toddlers, pregnant women, people who are on their feet all day, anyone wearing uncomfortable shoes. The list goes on. Several dozen older adults and people with disabilities live across the street from the bus stop shown in the before-and-after images. Also nearby is a housing complex where many young families live. AARP grant funding helped clear weeds and trash from a bus stop with no seating and install a bench and landscaping.
Port Orford, Oregon
To encourage pedestrian traffic, the very small city (population 1,159, average age 56), installed seating with attached planters. A construction crew from a nearby correctional facility built four bench-planter combos. High school students made plaques to recognize the inmates for their work and AARP for helping to fund the building supplies.
San Diego, California
The City Heights neighborhood is an enclave for refugees from Somalia and other East African countries. Local residents, particularly those 50 or older, gather in parking lots and on sidewalks at the busy area along University Avenue, which home to shops, markets and mosques. AARP funding enabled the installation of permanent seating in a popular plaza.
Kingston, New York
The Live Well Kingston Commission envisioned a “chess playground’ where people of all ages could come together to play chess (or checkers) in a public space. For the location, the city selected the waterfront TR Gallo Park along the Rondout Creek.
A bench is without a doubt a benefit for any pedestrian with aching feet, but being able to relax in a hammock is so much better. The city's visitor center and hammock park attract thousands of people a year, ranging from school groups to retirement home field trips. AARP funds helped spruce up the park with planters, outdoor games and — since hammocks aren't suitable for all users — benches.
Page published February 2022 | text by Melissa Stanton and Lisa VanBuskirk
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