Facebook PixelStreet furniture that encourages socializing between strangers
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Street furniture that encourages socializing between strangers

Image credit: CultureMap Dallas

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Sep 18, 2021
Can we come up with some street furniture layouts that are designed to encourage strangers to talk to each other?

Some principles that are likely to help:
  • Multiple sitting spots in a small space.
  • The sitting spots face each other at an angle rather than face to face. This is to avoid awkward stares and making people feel unease.
  • Beautiful, inviting, relaxing design that makes people want to stay for a while.
  • What else?
Here are a few examples of cleverly designed parklets:

This one is especially clever - people in separate sitting areas share the same table:




How would you design it to get strangers to talk to each other?
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Creative contributions

Strategically place art pieces around the area; play different types of music at different hours/days

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Oguntola Tobi
Oguntola Tobi Sep 20, 2021
Art and music are two things that make for great conversation starters.

If there are art pieces around such places, people who visit can start conversations with each other, share their respective opinions, and bond over the pieces. It is something I see myself doing.

Also, research proves that music strengthens social bonds. That is something I can personally attest to as I've struck up conversations with random people based on our shared taste in music.

The creators can play different music genres at different hours of the day/on different days. This can lead to people who like a particular genre visiting the space when their favorite music genre is being played just so they can meet new people with similar tastes and socialize with them.

Giving context to mundane situations and starting the narrative

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MS
Miloš Stanković Sep 22, 2021
I thought of what type of events have the most strangers starting conversations with each other and costume parties stood out immediately. Yes, a part of it is because people feel a bit anonymous under the masks, but a great part of it is that there is context to the interaction from the get-go. More than just "we're just two random people amongst the million running around in this city". At costume parties, people often use as conversation openers the phrases commonly connected to the costumes. Be it police officers, doctors, pilots.
If we could through clever painting and architecture make some benches look like places relevant to costumes they could serve as conversation-starters as well. A police station (paint a weight chart behind the bench), a fireman station (put a vertical pole next to it), a pirate ship plank coming from the mock side of an old ship, a silly western-style bench with maybe small bullet holes at the top...
People also feel more loose interacting with strangers when there are sports involved as it serves as a strong group identifier, making the other person less of a stranger. In cities with only one sports team (to avoid confrontations) one could paint a text bubble with something like "Let's go Borussia" pointing to the person sitting. That could spur on high-fives, common club chants, and probably conversation about the club.
I also remembered a town in Germany putting a game of pong on the opposite sides of traffic lights. A small console could be installed on the opposing side of the benches or on one console at the opposing benches. Having a bit of silly competition could be a great banter and conversation starter after winning or losing.

I also feel that a feeling of isolation might ease social anxiety in people and spark them to have conversations. It's hard enough to try and make the first move and break the norm of not speaking to strangers when you see someone who is interesting to you, it's even harder when there are other people in the hearing distance. Cocooned benches would provide such an intimate space to have a conversation. Be it with plants or the actual design of the benches.

The only time strangers opened conversations with me outside of bars and whatnot was when I was doing something positive, charitable. Like giving money to the homeless or picking up litter in parks. We could incentivize such behaviour by using benches and parks as stations that would have disposable rubber gloves and trash bags so that people could pick up trash. As for some form of charity, some cities have dispensaries for cat and dog food so that people could feed the strays and this could be also stored beneath the benches themselves.
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Darko Savic
Darko Savic24 days ago
A game of pong on the opposite sides of traffic lights sounds great:) I thought of something similar a few days ago. A multiplayer game played by people from any bus stop in the city.

An outdoor gym where the training stations face each other

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Sep 18, 2021
An outdoor gym where groups of training stations face each other. Because there are multiple groups of stations, people can easily avoid or join others if they feel like it.
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J
Jurana month ago
Nice! I immediately came up with the message "Mirror my moves" that could help people socializing in the street workout parks, help trainers to show the exercises to people while watching them do it at the same time.

Give passersby other reasons to sit

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Samuel Bello
Samuel Bello Sep 19, 2021
Well, people will not sit down just because they see pieces of furniture in their street, they will need some reason to sit there. The reason people gather in a bar is usually because of the alcohol. The reason they gather at a stadium is usually because of the games that happen there.

I would suggest that side attractions that encourage interaction between people should be placed around such places. There could be board games, card games, and magazines that are likely to provoke conversations. One thing that will surely attract teens is free wifi. ;-)


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Oguntola Tobi
Oguntola Tobia month ago
While I agree with the side attractions, I disagree with free Wi-Fi or anything internet related. I think introducing such elements into the mix will lead to the opposite of what such spaces are intended to accomplish: socialization.
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Povilas S
Povilas Sa month ago
I think both Samuel Bello's and Darko Savic's points are good. Socializing can be the main reason why people engage in some activity and also they might just want to sit down and relax for some time in a public place just like they'd do on a simple bench. But on the other hand, if there's something interesting to see/do additionally it will attract more people and socializing can start from there.
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Darko Savic
Darko Savica month ago
For some people socializing is the main purpose for going out. The game, alcohol, attractions are just what make socializing more fun. The same reason people choose to go for a walk in the park rather than somewhere where there is nobody else around. The same reason people prefer to drink at a full club rather than an empty bar.

Sitting spots positioned in a circle with an interesting feature in the center

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Sep 18, 2021
Sitting spots positioned in a wide enough, irregularly shaped circle to give everyone their space. Everyone faces towards the inside of the circle. There is something that draws attention in the center so that people naturally look at it while catching glimpses of each other.

Could the central attraction be something that starts conversations? What could it be?

Bus stops designed by local artists

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Darko Savic
Darko Savic Sep 20, 2021
As explained in this idea. Replace all bus stops in a city with standard shipping-container-sized platforms/frames upon which the local artists and architects can build creative sitting areas. Periodically move different bus stop installations to different locations.

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General comments

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Spook Louw
Spook Louwa month ago
There was a pub in the previous town I lived in that did something similar, by accident. To use their available space as efficiently as possible, there were no separate tables. Instead, there were three long rows of tables, so when you went there, you ended up sharing a table with complete strangers and it actually created a nice social vibe.
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Darko Savic
Darko Savica month ago
Spook Louw I had a similar experience in Thailand. There was a place with great food but horrible ambient/furniture. You just sat down wherever there was an empty chair. This usually resulted in pleasant conversations with strangers.
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Samuel Bello
Samuel Belloa month ago
Usually, the people that are on a street are people who want to go somewhere else. The people who are on the street who do not want to be somewhere else are probably homeless people and hustlers. How would such people be kept away from such paces?
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Darko Savic
Darko Savica month ago
That's a good problem to consider.

If the place is worthy of appreciation there would be people who frequently hang out there. Those are the people that would protect it (via police if necessary). If the place is taken over by thugs it would soon enough begin to show it. It would visually deteriorate and be abandoned for the purpose it was created. The creators would be the first people to care about it. They would naturally be inclined to check on the "health" of their cration.