Saturday, November 14, 2009

Bank Street Phase III, Part 4: Benches

[This post is part of a series on Bank Street's new look. See the introduction and part I here.]

Last time, I discussed the installation of trees on Bank Street.

Today's post is on the benches. Here's one of the beautiful benches installed as part of Phase I of the Bank Street reconstruction between Wellington and Laurier in June 2007:

As for Phase II and III, the old seating was nothing to sneeze at; shown here with some of the old bike racks in the foregound, they were rings of metal grate seating around a circular tree planter. They were uncomfortable to sit on, and very antisocial--you couldn't easily talk with more than one other person while sitting on them. (Photo taken August 2004)

In a March 2008 open house on the look of Phase II of the Bank Street project (Laurier to Somerset), this design charette described some possible designs for benches. The one on the top was designed to allow two people to sit together and have a conversation, while preventing someone from sleeping on the bench. (Not a goal I value highly)

As posted in last year's post on Bank Street reconstruction, this ugly cafeteria chair was the closest they could come to that design. Luckily, it was only put there for evaluation purposes, and thankfully the evaluation failed.

For reference, here's a shot of the two ring-and-post bike racks that used to be on that bulbout, as well as the concrete sidewalk design. This corner now contains a higher-capacity bike rack. Bike racks will be the subjecdt of Part 6 in this series.

It's hard to take photos of the benches, because I don't like taking photos of people without their permission, yet the benches are almost always occupied. Even before construction finished, this is a signal of a great pedestrian space. This photo is about the closest I could come, at Bank and Lisgar, looking at the Wallack's store and the Invisible Cinema, in mid-September 2008:

More benches were installed next to the Scotiabank at Bank and Gloucester, across from the Royal Oak. Here in April 2009 you can see that the two benches face each other:

Whereas in late September 2009, the benches have ben reconfigured, and a bunch of spray paint violates the relatively new decorative surface elements. The spray paint indicates the location of underground traffic signal wires:

In early November 2009, the benches were installed on the section of Bank under construction this year, from Somerset to Arlington. Here's one freshly installed outside Quizno's at Bank and MacLaren:

Here's another one kitty-corner from the previous photo, behind Hartman's. The protective styrofoam packaging is still on the arms of the benches.

At the March 2008 open house (where the design charette above was on display), I had a discussion with the designer of the benches about the middle arm. Obviously designed to keep people from sleeping on the benches (it seems we can't fight that sentiment any more), but the arm's location in the middle of the bench made it hard to use. I mentioned that each half of the bench could only really hold one-and-a-half people, reducing its overall capacity. A mother and her son would have to sit on opposite halves of the bench.

I suggested to the designer that the arm be moved to one side, so that you could fit three people on the bench. Furthermore, elderly people would be able to use both arms to lift themselves if they sit on the narrower part of the bench. The architect argued that it broke the symmetry, but I was delighted to see that someone eventually agreed with my point (imagine consultation actually yielding results!). Behold the design of the benches installed south of Somerset, including this one at Florence:

The really confusing bit was that the same week the new benches were installed south of Somerset, the benches from Laurier to Somerset were removed. You can still see the shadows where two benches had been installed on the South-East corner of Bank and Nepean. Why were they removed?!?

Tune in on Monday for Part 5: Surfaces


  1. I seldom sit on Bank Street benches. When in high school I was to meet a girlfriend outside the old La Gondola restuarant. A somewhat shabby male shuffled up to me and offered to buy me a beer. Followed by another. And another. By this time it had sunk into my dim high school suburban mind that these creeps were trying to pick me up. Fortunately my g'friend came along and we went inside. Ever since then I shy away from Bank Street benches. Now I am retired ... shouldn't I have gotten over this? Or should I be complimented that some people thought I was atttractive (or at least a cheap date)? When neighborhoods go "bad" or inhospitable or creepy or the "wrong types" hang out, it can do decades of image damage.
    -Eric Darwin

  2. Let me get this right, Eric: you don't sit on Bank Street benches because half a century ago Bank street was going into decline?

  3. Are you able to remember a marketing campaign from your youth? The theme song from a favorite tv show? I can still sing the CN commercial from 1966 or the Zoro tv song from 1958! Some images stick in our minds for a long time; some prevalent events/happenings/crazes do permanently affect us decades (or even your half century) later, whether consciously or un. I am quite cautious when it comes to a neighborhood's reputation or image, once damaged, they can be hard to repair for decades. Of course, young whippersnappers come along with no long term memory so the blighted area renews with them first; but for older people, images from further back last. That is just the point I made in my post.
    -Eric Darwin