Street furniture has be more than be attractive

A collage of seating types in Bourke Street Mall, Melbourne.

An article in The Age discusses how the design of street furniture distinguishes one city from another. But street furniture has to be more than attractive and different.

As the article points out, Paris has art deco metro entrances, London is known for red pillar boxes and Melbourne has curly bike racks. But Melbourne wants to be better than just bike racks. Consequently, the city’s street furniture is under review. Upgrades will not be cheap; a city bench ranges from $2000 to $5000 and lighting poles come in at $10,000.

If the images in the article are anything to go by, access and inclusion appears to have been forgotten. The placement of bike racks is problematic everywhere. On the kerbside, or against a building? Either way, they are a barrier for people with low or no vision. Seats and benches in fancy shapes are not always good places to rest either. 

Stainless steel coiled along the footpath to create a place to park bicycles.

It’s one thing to create a city ‘brand’, but it also needs to serve the whole population. Simple things like seating are also part of walkability strategies, and encouraging people to get out and about.  

The title of the article is, Melbourne looks to the world to reimagine city’s street style. Lets hope Melbourne does consult widely on reimagining the city’s street style.

Do we welcome skateboarders or do we exclude them? Do we welcome homeless people or exclude them? Do we offer people a place to sit or do we leave them in the middle of the road?

Rory Hyde, Melbourne University

Architect James Legge almost makes the accessibility point but it is in the context of designing for brand. ” … it’ll work well or it’ll work badly.”

If Melbourne takes a universal design approach to the project, the chances of everybody winning increase significantly.