Street furniture has been used as a term for collective objects and pieces of equipment installed along roads, streets, and public spaces for various purposes. When we talk about street furniture, it might include but is not limited to benches, traffic barriers, traffic signs, traffic lights, bollards, post boxes, streetlamps, bus stops, taxi stands, public sculptures, and railings among others. Since street furniture is mostly related to urban spaces, understanding that one of the subsets of urban space is what (Cubuk,1991) calls “semi-public” space.  He defines it as an element in the urban space that is open to use of the society. Such places are where citizens meet and communicate and here, various furniture is needed which brings about the need and use for street furniture.

Usability/ Functionality

Generally, the purpose of street furniture falls mainly on the functional side other than just being an aid in creating more friendly streets and public spaces. Depending on the object we are talking about, a certain purpose that is mostly functional will be served by a given object. For example, in cities and towns, street lights are needed to illuminate streets and roads at night, trash bins are needed for proper littering ensuring that cities are kept clean, public benches are provided in public spaces and squares firstly to give the public a place to rest or take a break in the city before any other consideration about the design of the furniture and if said design will serve its purpose is considered. 

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A bench designed by architecture firm Snohetta for the Nobel Peace centre in Oslo. _©https://www.dezeen.com/2019/07/16/snohetta-bench-nobel-peace-centre-oslo-norway/

Looking at its design and shape, people are unintentionally forced to sit near each other which is an example of street furniture encouraging socialization.

However, much as all this is put up to serve a certain function, especially to the user of the public space, sometimes depending on the context, the furniture in place will be misused, vandalized, or will stay redundant not serving its original purpose because either people don’t see its purpose or are just not responsible to take care of public amenities and that role is left to the various authorities. Sometimes it’s an issue of design where the design of given public furniture is too brutal for the user to engage with it and use it.

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Image of a man lying on a bench in a public space in Kampala yet the said bench is for seating showing how sometimes street furniture is misused._©Author

Some of the advantages of properly designed and placed street furniture

Appropriately selected and placed street furniture can draw people to outdoor spaces and add to the pleasure of using these spaces. Examples like benches and seating areas especially in green and public places in cities encourage socializing and to a certain extent offer a sense of community.

When these are carefully placed, they create a designated area for people to sit and socialize and this is an opportunity for the inclusivity of all individuals. Park benches have also become resting places for many people who are running different errands in towns and cities. The design of this furniture can also ensure and aid in the intentional socializing or not of the people using it in public places and along the streets in the cities.

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People in a Kampala city public space not only utilizing the provided seating but also the planters provided (Photo by author)

Street furniture like bollards, signage, traffic lights, and railing helps in directing traffic in busy towns and cities which ensures the safety of the people, especially pedestrians. Bollards control and direct street activity by constraining movements or controlling movement speed by narrowing the accessible space for both pedestrians and vehicles. However, in cities like Kampala where one of the means of road transport is motorcycles or call them Boda-bodas, these don’t follow the traffic guidelines and so even in instances where street furniture should ensure the safety of pedestrians, it doesn’t because these don’t care for the rules.

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Boda-bodas overlooking bollards on Kampala road and driving from a pavement designated for pedestrians._©Onyum Charles_Available at https://lbs.co.ug/2022/04/21/squeezed-by-boda-boda-madness/

Street furniture gives towns, cities, and urban spaces an identity and a sense of “place”. The quality of urban spaces can be indicated by the character of its street furniture and how well it creates a sense of identity. The quality and placement of given furniture can be seen in many cities giving them a unique identity for example London’s red telephone booths which are iconic and essential to its identity.

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The Red phone box, a piece of street furniture that gives London an identity. ©Richard Lewis_available at https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/britain-s-red-phone-boxes-now-stores-restaurants-even-photo-n1005326

The aesthetics of street furniture

Even when street furniture is widely functional, it can be beautiful and in turn add to the beauty and identity of cities, towns, streets, and even public spaces. This can be looked at from the perspective that instead of the responsible authorities doing an industrial production of say park benches, offering designers an opportunity to design furniture that is unique to places and people will make more than functional.

Street furniture aesthetics can also come down to not only the design but also the materiality and color of said furniture. This will then determine the durability of the furniture given the fact that it is bound to face aspects like the weather, the wear and tear from being used constantly by different people, and how best it can be maintained.

Natural materials and finishes complemented by earth-tone colors seem to be suitable for street furniture, especially the ones placed in parks and public spaces. Materials might include steel, wood, concrete, stone, and plastic. When street furniture is finished with a color contrasting with its environment, then it makes it easy to be identified by pedestrians but this also in turn gives the place an identity. It can also be coupled with nature and plants depending on the choice of material to enhance green spaces and encourage people to engage with the environment. 

A combined hybrid planter and street furniture by Italian architect Stefano Boeri which allows the public to engage with the environment. _©https://www.dezeen.com/2020/07/20/stefano-boeri-superverde-trees-street-furniture/A combined hybrid planter and street furniture by Italian architect Stefano Boeri which allows the public to engage with the environment. _©https://www.dezeen.com/2020/07/20/stefano-boeri-superverde-trees-street-furniture/

In conclusion, street furniture is important especially when it comes to the image of cities and the well-being of pedestrians and communities living in or near cities. Sometimes in other contexts, people will have to be educated by the authorities about its importance to avoid instances of misuse or vandalism. At the same time, authorities can also work hand in hand with designers to ensure that the products/ furniture produced is friendly to the user and that it also fits in the context where it is placed which will see cities vibrant and having an identity.

References

NBC News. (n.d.). Britain’s iconic red phone boxes can be adopted for just $1.30. [online] Available at: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/britain-s-red-phone-boxes-now-stores-restaurants-even-photo-n1005326.

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Anon, (n.d.). Private public Solutions to the Boda-boda Menace in Uganda – Economic Policy Research Centre. [online] Available at: https://eprcug.org/blog/private-public-solutions-to-the-boda-boda-menace-in-uganda/.

www.broxap.com. (n.d.). Six Ways that Street Furniture Can Enhance our Public Spaces | Broxap. [online] Available at: https://www.broxap.com/blog/articles/street-furniture-public-spaces.html [Accessed 18 Nov. 2022].

ArchDaily. (2022). How to Design a Sidewalk? The Key Role of Street Furniture. [online] Available at: https://www.archdaily.com/986866/how-to-design-a-sidewalk-the-key-role-of-street-furniture [Accessed 18 Nov. 2022].

www.baileystreetscene.co.uk. (n.d.). Street Furniture for Urban Spaces of Towns and Cities – Bailey Streetscene. [online] Available at: https://www.baileystreetscene.co.uk/street-furniture [Accessed 18 Nov. 2022].

SF Better Streets. (2011). Street Furniture Overview. [online] Available at: https://www.sfbetterstreets.org/find-project-types/streetscape-elements/street-furniture-overview/.

Furnitubes. (n.d.). The Importance Of Street Furniture. [online] Available at: https://www.furnitubes.com/blog/2019/06/the-importance-of-street-furniture#:~:text=Having%20enough%20street%20furniture%20also.

@article{article, author = {Uslu, Esra and Ertürk, A.}, year = {2019}, month = {12}, pages = {2147-0626}, title = {Urban Furniture in Historical Process}, volume = {8}, journal = {Journal of History Culture and Art Research}, doi = {10.7596/taksad.v8i4.2336} }

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