It is a common practice for cities to remove benches if they attract homeless or other “undesirable” people who tend to hang out too long in public places. A quick search on Google or Bing confirms the widespread use of this urban management technique.
And, of course, this technique has been applied from time to time in Petaluma. For example, consider the permanent removal of the benches on the Concourse walkway to the City Parking Garage. In the composite photo below you can see the area in 2012 on the left and today on the right…
April 2012 (Left–Benches)
July 2015 (Right–No Benches)
In addition, it is my understanding that in recent years some of the public benches on the Water Street Promenade have been removed or relocated to discourage negative activities in the area.
Now It Is The Putnam Plaza Benches
I recently noticed that the two public benches in Putnam Plaza were removed as part of a City landscaping project next to Starbucks. All that remains are the donor plaques…
I made an inquiry about the benches to City Hall and received this e-mail response today…
“The benches were removed as part of a cleanup for the plaza related to negative activities (emphasis added) and discussed with the business owners and the Police Department. People were sleeping on and behind them in the bushes (now also removed) against the Starbucks wall. The benches at some point will be refurbished and replaced in the plaza but in a different spot. A date has not yet been identified. The negative activities have been reduced largely to the cleanup efforts, fixing of lights, power washing, and signage.”
I certainly empathize with the businesses and others who object to “negative activities” in our public areas. However, the bench removal tactic is not effective.
- Does not discourage the very people against whom it is directed from sitting on the sidewalk or otherwise occupying the area where the benches were located. Granted there be some temporary change in behaviors, but inevitably there is a reversion to the previous state. As proof of this, go to my earlier post which contains photos of people in the various areas previously targeted for bench removal.
- Does deny others (what some would call “regular” people) the opportunity to use the benches when they are downtown.
I did a little more digging and found that the subject of “negative activities” downtown in the Water Street area has been with us for some time. Take a few minutes to read these two articles from 2007…
- What do you think about the Water Street Promenade?
- Merchants say riverside gathering space, one of downtown’s first revitalization projects, is attracting the wrong crowd
Aside from some of the specific complaints that generated the circumstances discussed in the above two articles not much has changed since 2007 in terms of constructive responses. As one person put it to me– “Focus on the situation that created the problems instead of the benches.” In that regard, this recent article may be of some value: Taking It to the Street
Turning back to the present situation in Putnam Plaza, I hope that the benches are returned sooner rather than later. In the meantime the donor plaques still mark their location…awaiting their return.
If the benches are not returned, I wonder if the donors could claim the plaques or at least a refund of their donation.