Taking It To The Streets

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Updated: October 15, 2020

Early on, I had what seemed like a simple job, “taking it to the streets” – redesigning the front yard of a medical practice opening onto a busy road. Path winding through new plantings with a seat, which immediately raised the question: build it or buy it? This one simple question sparked a whole series more – how do you ensure that the seat is accessible for those with a disability? How do you make it strong enough to survive constant public usage and possible vandalism? Today, street furniture has so many more demands around access and durability that often the best answer, even on a small job, is to go with supply from a specialist company.

Accessibility

Under the 1992 Australian Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), public spaces must be accessible topeople with a disability. Seats need to be optimised for use by the elderly and tables need to be accessible for wheelchair users. Ensuring that public spaces are enjoyed by everyone, usually means street furniture may not be the most comfortable for the general public with higher tables for wheelchair users as well as higher backed seats and arm rests for the elderly. Yet, with UN projections stating the number of people over 80 years of age will triple by 2050, it is essential that street furniture follows universal design principles.

Urban furniture should also be readily accessible even on days that seem to contain four seasons, for example, seating should drain easily after showers.

Durability

Later on, I recall passing by my newly installed seat to see six teenagers standing on it – durability is essential! As street furniture can often become a target for vandals and graffiti artists, also consider how easily paint adheres to the surface and can be removed.

The composition of stainless steel makes it virtually immune to rust and corrosion, but a powder coating is recommended for added resistance, especially in coastal areas. If you are comparing types of stainless steel, the higher the chromium content, the more resistant the alloy is to atmospheric corrosion. Similarly, the presence of molybdenum prevents red rust and reduces the depth of surface pitting. Draffin Street Furniture’s ‘Brisbane’ range features a fully welded stainless steel sub frame with inlayed hardwood or ReWood battens.

Aluminium remains one of the most popular metals for outdoor furniture. Despite being lightweight, it is strong, durable and easily worked into a variety of intricate shapes. Aluminum is relatively inexpensive, low maintenance and, although it is highly weather-resistant on its own, a polyester powder coating is recommended. This electrostatic process not only increases protection against the elements and scratching, but also allows the addition of colour. Powder coating adheres better to the metal and is much more resistant to fading than painted aluminium. Botton and Gardiner’s flagship ‘Classic Urban Seat’ uses a cast aluminium frame with either hardwood or Alugrain slats.

Man-made synthetic materials, such as resin and plastic, are becoming more popular in the world of street furniture. Synthetics are typically lightweight, inexpensive and can be moulded into any decor style imaginable. Because colour is inherent in the chemical make-up, they are fade resistant and don’t require treatment with paint or sealants.

Polyethylene (PE) is the most common form of plastic used to make home deck furniture. It’s cost-effective, but the high-density version (HDPE) is required for outdoor commercial applications as it’s far more durable and weather resistant. HDPE has a low impact on the environment, being produced from scraps and offcuts, which are recycled and even re-recycled!

It can be moulded into shape and produced in a variety of colours enabling eye-popping designs such as the ‘Precinct Bench’ from Furphy Foundry.

Wood Plastic Composite (WPC) can provide a natural, wood look to street furniture, yet with improved weather resistance and lower maintenance requirements than traditional timber. WPC is another sustainable bio product that can be recycled.

Synthetics have really come into their own due to their resistance to bacteria and ease of cleaning – a vital consideration with the current rise and rise of global pandemics. Read on…

Trending

The last few decades have seen a movement to make our cities greener, more people-friendly places with biophilic design leading to green walls and green roofs while cars have been progressively banned, giving way to increased public space and cycle ways.

Yet today, we are seeing a conflict between the desire to open our streets to create greener, more people friendly spaces and the need to close them down around the possibility of terrorist attacks and virus spread.

Coronavirus rearing its ugly head even in a landscaping article? Unfortunately, we don’t live in a bubble, whatever affects the wider community has an impact upon our industry! In public spaces, clever landscape solutions are now needed to make our urban environments more livable while guaranteeing safety in increasingly dangerous times.

As terrorists began using ‘hostile vehicle access’, cities had to react quickly deploying ‘hostile vehicle mitigation’. This at first meant the rapid deployment of concrete blocks to improve the safety of crowded public spaces. Planter boxes and screens are quickly replacing concrete blocks and bollards providing a greener solution to public safety. Planters can be used to mark out areas and boundaries. This has made spaces feel less exposed, creating social comfort for sitting as well as marking out expanded footpaths and cycle lanes for social distancing on the street.

Planter boxes can also be hostile vehicle proof. The Safetyflex universal slim line planter by Ezisecurity is the world’s smallest slim line planter crash tested to BSI PAS68 to stop a 7.5-tonne truck travelling at 64km/h.

Coronavirus restrictions have at times made the use of street furniture illegal!

Meeting these challenges, Brisbane City Council in an upgrade for the West End Riverside Parklands, created a green retreat with new furniture and landscaping for pedestrians and cyclists. Visitors can rest and watch the river on individual Mall Sun Lounges installed on the bank – physical distancing with a view! The urban furniture was supplied by Street Furniture Australia and features battens powder-coated in a spectrum of green to promote relaxation.

Lockdowns and social distancing has limited our participation in public life and public space. The upside has been less traffic on our roads as more people work from home. We now have an opportunity to repurpose street spaces for people.

“Temporary and tactical urbanism” may become the latest catch-cry of town planners with landscapers being called upon to create simple, low-cost and agile solutions that encourage safe socialising on our streets.

There are now so many more considerations around street furniture selection. Cities and towns will need to find creative ways to make outdoor areas both greener and more inviting, while at the same time guaranteeing safety. For our physical and mental well-being, we will need to find ways that allow people to safely enjoy the fresh air, seeing, talking and maybe even singing to each other! As always, the landscape industry will need to be there to plant and build the solutions.