When a chairbomb gets evicted

A couple weeks ago, I released this video on creating public seating in a place where it makes a difference:

Last week, Sarah Goodyear from CityLab interviewed me about the project. Her first question was this:

When you did your chairbombing, were you worried at all about the police confronting you? The landowner?

My answer: 

In this case, not really, because of the context of the property and our city. I can easily remove the logs if there is a problem at any point, but it's clear that whoever owns this land (I'd guess the neighbouring church or government building) is not interested in kicking people off of it. We also went out of our way to create seating that market-goers and the landowner would love so that they could form their own connection to it. In this city, people seem to respond really well to "art" that's a gift to others.

AND THEN! Here was the scene this week at the market:

While I appreciate the sympathy of friends who were ticked off at how this unfolded, I’m not ticked off at all. In fact, I’m rather tickled by it. This is just how it goes with these activities. The sincere and unpredictable reactions made it all the more interesting.

I gave Bill a call shortly after seeing the sign and left a message saying thanks for the note, I’ll move the stumps ASAP, call with any questions.

Bill is the reverend of the neighbouring church and he called back two days later. We had a good talk. He explained that he was out of town for a while and returned home to some congregational concern about the stumps on the church lawn. His home and that of his fellow reverend are attached to the church and that grass is considered their yard. They occasionally use it for private functions and as a kind gesture to the community, they allow people to sit there on market days. There was once a fence proposed around the area, which he declined in favour of sharing the space with market-goers. However, he felt the stumps would get in the way of their private uses and lawn maintenance efforts. Bill apologized for having to evict the stumps and I promised him I’d find a good home for them. We shared a laugh, I thanked him for hosting the stumps for three weeks and he thanked me for giving him a call.

It’s hard to feel bad about that. We had three great weeks, made the point that more seating would be appreciated, showed how easy that could be, and emerged without hard feelings or wasting the time of city officials. Bill leaving his phone number saved the day on that one. Had the sign just read, “Please remove,” everyone probably would have felt pretty crappy about the situation, but signing off with a name and number removed that animosity.

Even (maybe especially) when there are conflicting ideas around public space, it creates opportunities to connect with other people.

Where next for the Stumps?

Now that we have a filmed example of the stumps in action, the job of finding a sanctioned home for them is theoretically a lot easier. Prior to having a before-and-after video, you can imagine how difficult it was to explain this concept to landowners who may never have seen a public plaza, let alone a "chairbomb".

I’ve got a few ideas for the stumps’ next destination, although I think the market is still the best place in town by a wide margin because it has the greatest seating shortage. I’m going to send this blog post to the farmer’s market. We'll see what they say.

Hi Boyce Market,
If you are reading this and would like these stumps, they are yours. Since existing seating is limited and squished behind the food trucks it would be great to create more. Fortunately that's really easy to test out! My hunch would be to convert 3-5 parking spaces adjacent to the market into a seasonal sit-down plaza. You only learn by trying though. If nothing else, this would be a relief to your senior patrons and parents with young children. The stumps are a great meet-up point and a place where people can not only eat and catch their breath, but also wait for their friends/family outside the market building. I would LOVE to help you pilot a plaza if you need extra hands or minds. What do you say? Get in touch.

GRACEN JOHNSON calls her work, "Projects for Places we Love." She mostly helps individuals and organizations with strategy, research, communications, and outreach. Despite finishing her MPhil in Planning, Growth, and Regeneration in 2013, she has never stopped studying the city. Gracen thinks of her day-to-day as action research, diving into the question of how Strong Citizenship can transform a place. She lives with her partner in the The Maritimes. In this regular column, field notes, you'll get snapshots of life as a friendly neighbour in a little city.