Benches! We had some benches downtown once upon a time. It meant that when you were shopping downtown you could sit outside and wait for your partner to finish buying a new outfit. Or sit waiting for your friends to show up at a restaurant or bar before you go in. A place to quickly sit and text back to your family member who is having a crisis. A place where you could wait for the bus. A place where you could have that first kiss with a special someone after a night dancing! A place where old men and women going for a stroll downtown can sit and have a little conversation while they rest their legs! Those things along with water fountains and telephone booths used to be an important part of just about every downtown in America!
We used to have these hallmarks of civility, bridges of community and basics of humanity. What happened? I don’t remember telling the city of Olympia to get rid of all the benches. But while we weren’t observing, a Ken or Karen decided that the benches had to go and the city council and manager all said ok. What is wrong with you people?
I already know. Homeless folks were using the benches to. Remove the benches, thought some genius, and homelessness will disappear! I will call this Olympia’s homeless plan 1. Now we have the much better One Plan for homelessness.
Well that homeless plan didn’t work. Instead homeless sat on the sidewalk, wet, dirty, and cold while blocking the path for shoppers downtown. They also slept in business doorways rather than on those benches.
The funny thing also, by funny I mean even more ridiculous, is before they were taken away, the city had spent thousands of dollars on them. Installing cuddle prevention devices, as I like to call them, in all the centers of the benches so that a human being could no longer lay down. Then they paid artists thousands of dollars to paint these less friendly benches with cool designs. Then, after all that, they yanked them all out.
Do you all remember the two parklets the city spent about $50k each on? Nice spots, artistic designs, benches for enjoying ones self! Ahead of their time considering Covid drove so many businesses to needing outdoor spots. This was in 2012. Here’s the one picture I found online.
I think these parks lasted a year, maybe two. I understand that, again, homeless use was to blame for why we had to spend even more money getting rid of these benched parklets. I have a better solution I’ll save for the end.
Intercity transit benches!
Then the new transit shelters had benches for a while! These were useful while waiting, stay dry and have a seat! They were uncomfortable little weird seats without back support. They had to make them this way because then, you guessed it, homeless might decide to sit on them out of the rain. So now these little uncomfortable benches are all gone! They just took them out.
Don’t blame the homeless. Blame the idiots who told city workers to remove the benches.
Now is the time when I confront the poor decisions on all this. You messed up. The homeless can use the benches. They don’t disappear for lack of benches. In fact having benches may actually decrease problems associated with homeless elsewhere. I’ve got a solution that if you all had implemented a while ago would have been way better, saved the city a fortune and improved everyone’s lives and downtown business.
Build more benches instead of take them away or try and homeless proof them all. Because despite removing all the benches (homeless plan 1) downtown flooded with homeless anyways, but rather than sitting on benches they were blocking everything and getting cranky because they had no where comfortable to sit! And also no one else had anywhere comfortable to sit! Like downtown shoppers!
Shocker! We should have two benches per block downtown. We should have wrap around benches in the bus covered areas. We should have made more parklets rather than make two and take both out. And all this we can still do!
More importantly perhaps is that the city needs to look around and figure out who decided to get rid of benches. Who was it? Because that was a bad and costly decision. That person needs to be known for their poor decision making. Next, look around and figure out who thought getting rid of benches was a stupid idea. Those people are better decision makers and maybe they should more stridently stand up. It’s not about the benches itself, it’s about the principles behind it.