"I get tired a lot," an UrbanToronto colleague tells me, "and Downtown doesn't have enough seating." For many of us, being able to sit down in a public space means finding respite from the bustle of the city. For the group of Toronto urbanists behind #SitTO, sitting down means a lot more. Through a series of "sit-in" interventions, tomorrow's event will occupy a number of prominent public spaces to raise awareness about Downtown's lack of public seating, and the simple placemaking power of sitting down.
Beginning at Nathan Phillips Square at 11 AM on Saturday, June 4, several of Toronto's prominent public spaces will be temporarily transformed into more welcoming urban environments. Through little more more than a collection of foldable plastic lawn chairs, tomorrow's event will draw attention to the public realm benefits of enhanced seating.
Speaking to the Toronto Star, event organizer Stas Ukhanov describes public seating as more than just a place to rest, arguing that "[y]ou can have great streets and parks that are full of people, but if the people don't stick around, you don't have vibrant places that people enjoy." Between Bloor and Lake Ontario, Ukhanov counted only two benches—both provided by private businesses—along Yonge Street. Meanwhile, with the stairs of Ryerson's Student Learning Centre creating "almost a natural amphitheatre into the streets" only steps away, Ukhanov highlights the placemaking potential of a people-oriented public realm.
In conversation with the CBC's Matt Galloway, Ukhanov explained our dearth of public seating as a result of the "misconception of Toronto as a winter city," and the history of "Toronto the good" as an overly formal and inhibited urban space. In a city with a "history of ticketing people for loitering," and where even patios are "relatively new," the socio-cultural remnants of a bygone place still linger. Brought together by Twitter and a mutual drive to enhance public seating, the informal organization uses #SitTO to promote awareness and advocate for better public space.
Ultimately, the goal is also to dispel the notion that streets don't belong to people. In transforming public spaces like Nathan Phillips Square and the austere plaza in front of Dundas Street's 52 Division into places to linger and enjoy, the #SitTO organizers hope to help spur the creation of more seating and invite a new public mentality, dispelling "this idea that if you're on the streets you probably shouldn't be there and you should move along," Ukhanov tells The Star. "Streets are not just for moving, they're our greatest public land asset."
By creating a comfortable and dignified place to rest, public seating can also help create quality of place and nourish urban vibrancy. In New York, the highly acclaimed transformation of Times Square into a pedestrian-dominated plaza provided not only seating, but an evolved sense of place. In Times Square, all it really took to get started was chairs and few cans of paint. In Toronto, it starts with some 20 lawn chairs at 11 AM. And it starts with one of the easiest and most natural things any of us can do: sitting down.
The #SitTO group will meet at Nathan Phillips Square at 11 AM, Saturday June 4, moving from location to location throughout the Downtown in approximately 30-minute intervals. Tentatively, the group plans to move from Nathan Phillips Square to University Avenue (at plaza in front of the courthouse), and then to the intersection of Queen and Peter Streets, followed by the Dundas Street plaza in front of 52 Division, and the McGill Street Parkette (at Yonge). The event is scheduled to run until 3 PM.