Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) held it’s annual conference in Washington this weekend. ASLA invited GGW to attend.

At a panel on site furnishings (park benches, tables, etc.) one of the presenters described walking in Washington as “exhausting” due to the long distances and, more importantly, the lack of benches.

Indeed the city was designed to incorporate grand, lengthy vistas. The most famous vista is the Mall, which is dotted with benches. The rest of downtown, however, is another story. Some buildings have installed benches as part of their overall public space requirements, but that’s hardly a rational way to provide public seating downtown.

Though some people will inevitably monopolize benches and camp out on them, it’s important to recognize the benefits of benches. As pedestrian as benches can seem, they support positive lingering and contribute to street life. Tourists have places to sit and read maps. Office workers have places to eat lunch. Bus riders have places to wait. Everyone else has a comfortable point for relaxation or a rendezvous.

The District should develop a plan for installing (and eventually maintaining) public benches. Obviously the city cannot afford right now to install benches everywhere, but we can at least start identifying areas near metro entrances, blocks with several restaurants, streets in shopping districts, and any place where crowds stroll along. We can roll out the benches over several years, prioritizing the areas where they are most needed.

Benches don’t have to be boring, either. Take a look at these benches installed a few years ago along Wisconsin Avenue in Friendship Heights, DC.

Photo by the author.