Please Be Seated
Dan Burden, founder of Walkable Communities, visits towns and cities around the continent evaluating them for walkability, making suggestions for developing people friendly streetscapes, and developing strategies for transforming the auto-oriented communities we have now into those that encourage and support pedestrianism. Last night he gave a lecture as part of the Great Cities Speakers Series, sponsored by The Common Wealth Club and 1st Act. He closed with the following two stories:
Dan was visiting Portland, Oregon where he was meeting with one of the city’s planners to give a walkability assessment. Following a long ambling four-hour walk through the city of Portland, they arrived back at the planner’s home. Dan took a picture of him as he sat on a bench he had placed on his front lawn near the sidewalk. On the backrest of the bench, carefully painted in white, were the words “Please Be Seated.” In the picture, the planner is seated with his left arm draped over the back, open and inviting, the physical embodiment of the words printed just beneath his elbow. The planner shared with Dan a letter he had received. The letter was stained with tears. “I would like to thank you,” the letter said. “My father just passed away. The most difficult thing for him had been to get his groceries. He couldn’t drive and so he would walk to the nearest store. It was a long walk, but he could make it because along the way was your bench. He would stop there and rest. Because he was able to get his groceries, he was able to live until his finals days independent and in his own home. ”
The second story Dan told began with a picture of a modest suburban home with two small girls playing in front on the sidewalk: one bouncing a ball, the other twirling a hula hoop. The sidewalk was built by the man who once lived in the house. When the neighborhood was first built there had been no sidewalks, but the man who lived there had made it through the Great Depression paving sidewalks. With the help of his son, he built a sidewalk stretching across the front of the yard. His dream was a sidewalk that continued along the whole block, where neighbors could walk in the cool morning or evening air and greet each other and children would have a safe place to ride their bicycles and play hopscotch. He held a block party to teach others how to build sidewalks, hoping that together they could extend the little piece he had built until every home on the street had a piece connected to it and so were connected together. His little piece is still there, but the picture taken from a different angle shows that it is alone, a short ribbon of concrete isolated in fields of turf, blunt at each end, the private play space of two little girls. Dan closed in remembrance of his father: fire chief and builder of sidewalks.
Human scale brings to the city human touch.