In the 1990s, San Francisco removed all of the benches from Civic Center Plaza. In 2001, all remaining seating in nearby United Nations Plaza was removed in the middle of the night. Over the years, public seating has been removed from virtually the entire city. While this anti-homelessness strategy has given way a little with the emergence of the city’s many parklets, it’s still in full effect.
Decades after the full-scale seating removal in Civic Center Plaza, there is still nary a bench. Unfortunately, you cannot say the same for the number of unhoused who congregate there.
Civic Center Plaza, like so many urban plazas everywhere, gives the appearance of public space while simultaneously restricting access to it.
As the urban anthropologist William H. Whyte said, “This might not strike the reader as an intellectual bombshell,” but “people tend to sit where there are places to sit.” Yet keeping people away from those places — or failing to offer any place to sit at all — has become a defining feature of too much city and town planning. Is it really the goal to make our cities feel unwelcoming? Do we really want to criminalize sitting?
We already have.