Analyzing Street Furniture

Introduction

Les Halles has a strategic location in Paris’s centre: with multiple metro and train lines passing through it, it is a commuter hub, as well as a mixed-use area of residences, public recreational spaces, cafés and shops. Previously a dangerous area to be at night­­­ [1], efforts to make the area safer and more liveable for the public as a major renovation of Les Halles proceeds [2] must take street furniture into account.

Variable: Street Furniture

Media 1
The responses of people sitting down in the area, in answer to being asked their purpose for sitting down there.

One crucial component of street furniture is seating. As the Project for Public Spaces notes, a very common issue faced by public spaces is a lack of good seating [3]; this is especially relevant as Les Halles aims to be a user-friendly community center [2]. Multiple groups find good seating important: commuters waiting for others, people who would like to relax under the canopy that is Les Halles’s new centrepiece, and tired shoppers. Thus, we chose to focus on seating; in particular, analysing whether it was sufficient in Les Halles.

During our first week of observing Les Halles, we noted that many structures not meant as seats (for example, flower pots, ledges, and glass railings) were used as improvised seats. It is important to note that a large number of public seats are being built in the Parc des Nelson Mandela (re-opening in 2018) located next to the Les Halles canopy; however, these will be unsheltered, and the number of people we observed using improvised seats showed that there is an unmet demand for seats right now.

Media 2
A collage showing various seats, improvised and otherwise, used in the Les Halles area.

Methodology

In order to investigate the availability of seats in Les Halles, we decided to count the number of chairs in the area of interest and show the results on a map. Seats were classified as public (purpose-built seats or seating areas such as the stairs which doubled as an amphitheatre during concerts), private (owned by restaurants or shops), improvised (areas clearly not built for seating, but observed to be used as seats), and miscellaneous. They were also classified as sheltered or unsheltered from the elements. For seating areas without clear delineations between seats (e.g. the amphitheatre stairs and fountain-side area), estimates were made. Only areas outside of buildings were included.

We also took time lapses of the amphitheatre and glass railing areas to determine, qualitatively and quantitatively, how much the areas were used for people to rest.

Data and Analysis

Map showing number of chairs of each type in each area, sorted by sheltered VS unsheltered. Click pins to see numbers and descriptions.

The results from our map show that while there is a large amount of available seating in the unsheltered areas, there is a dearth of sheltered seats, especially when improvised and private seats are excluded. Moreover, as the amphitheatre’s lower area is used for both seating and stairs for commuters, the actual number of people who can use these sheltered seats is much lower than the total possible number of seats. The data supports our hypothesis that there is a lack of sheltered public seating; the opening of the (unsheltered) park will not rectify this.

These results were supported by the time lapses we took (which showed no significant differences between a weekday afternoon and rush hour). These show that people mostly used the amphitheatre for commuting (except during concerts, when it provides sufficient seating- see picture), and that there is a demand for the ability to rest on the glass railing area. A count from the time lapses showed that there is a roughly 1:5 ratio of people sitting to people commuting through the amphitheatre area, and that 36 people used the glass railing area to rest over 30 minutes, but had to lean on it. The time lapse of the glass railing area also shows that the area just beyond the glass railing (from the camera’s perspective) sees little traffic relative to the space.

Time lapse showing the movement of people through the amphitheatre area. Each time lapse second corresponds to one real life minute.

Time lapse showing people leaning on the glass railing area. Each time lapse second corresponds to one real life minute.

Media 6
Picture showing the amphitheatre used as a seating area during a concert.

Proposed Improvements

With sheltered public seating lacking in Les Halles, we propose improving its availability.

Video showing a summary of the seating in different areas of Les Halles, and of our proposed improvements.

Media 8
Picture representing what one of the added seats might look like, on the glass railing area- the seats would, however, extend across each panel from side to side, rather than just covering one end as shown. Not to scale.

Given the large amount of area covered by the glass railings, as well as the number of people using it as a rest or waiting area, we propose that slanted seats at waist-level be added along the barrier area. This will allow the area to be more comfortable for users, while not disrupting its aesthetic. Around 20-30 moveable, single-person, public seats could also be added in the patio beyond the glass railing to allow people to move them to sit in a group around the glass railings, while not disrupting traffic flow. In line with a smart city’s flexibility in public space usage, this would allow people to customise the chairs’ positioning according to their preferences. GPS locators could be attached to prevent theft, with screamer alarms going off if the chair was removed from the canopy, and stiff fines for theft.

We decided not to implement dedicated seating at the amphitheatre, since it can already be used for seating, and is mostly used for commuting; however, the fenced-off space in the middle of the amphitheatre, which is unused except for rainwater drainage, could be repurposed as a garden, since exposure to nature in urban areas improves the moods of people [4], and the rain would water the plants; the garden would also take in carbon dioxide, part of making Paris more sustainable.

Citations

[1] United States Department of State Bureau of Diplomatic Security: France 2012 Crime and Safety Report: Paris (Retrieved from: https://www.osac.gov/pages/ContentReportDetails.aspx?cid=12264)

[2] Réaménagement Des Halles: Les Halles Renovation Project (Retrieved from: http://www.parisleshalles.fr/00371)

[3] Project for Public Spaces: Why Public Spaces Fail (Retrieved from: http://www.pps.org/reference/failedplacefeat/)

[4] Hartig, T., & Kahn, P.H. (2016). Living in cities, naturally. Science, 352-6288, 938-940.

Adriana Caicedo, Brendan Dean, Eana Meng, Tanguy Chotel

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