Jul 5, 2022Liked by Addison Del Mastro

This was thought provoking, thank you.

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Thank you!

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I share your concerns about the “real” reason these benches were removed; bias, conscious or unconscious. And I’d also point out that the way they were arranged in the first place was pretty lousy and may have also been intended to limit the “troublesome“ behaviors you identify.

- they’re spread too far for people on different benches to converse naturally, implicitly limiting group to the 2-3 people who can fit on a single bench (3 being extra uncomfortable in most cases.)

- if folks on benches opposite each other did raise their voices to chat, then people walking down the walkway have to pass through their loud conversation. Awkward.

- even if there’s not a 20-Ft conversation being lobbed across the path passersby have to cross the forward gaze of anyone sitting on the benches. Natural human curiosity means that gaze is usually going to follow them a bit, which feels a lot like being stared at and judged - by people either sitting in silence (because there’s no one to talk to) or talking with another “judge”. It’s a psychological gauntlet to walk past multiple benches arrayed like viewing stands on a parade.

- the benches are evenly spaced, so there’s no “good spot” to sit. Universal Space designed for automaton citizens, subtly undermining the unique humanity of the real ones.

It speaks well of the Latin community that they have the skills to socialize in a public space designed to frustrate socializing. Perhaps that’s another reason it seems so strange, so “improper” to socialize on a bench, or to “loiter” in a “park.”

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It's interesting to contrast this argument with another common one: that there's a decline in community, society is atomizing, etc.

Is society atomizing because we've destroyed all of our common spaces for lack of will to invest? Or do we really mean that "those" people shouldn't be congregating? Or can we take the argument that's alluded to in this article that the causality run the other way, and we're not investing in common spaces *because* we no longer feel a sense of community?

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I think you hit the nail on the head. I also think there is a related thought that benches are for "contributors." So often, benches include hostile design. There are hand rails, bumps, slopes, and odd angles. They're designed to be uncomfortable so that people don't stay long and to prevent some from sleeping on them. I think there is inherent racism/classicism in that as well. People want benches for "them" and not to be reminded of those who are less fortunate because god forbid we see a homeless person laying down on one.

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First, make sure you check your spelling of "public" in the paragraph beginning, "That link, which makes the claim about how Latin Americans use..." It's one I made many years ago on the job, to a global email list including high level people in my company, so it particularly resonates with me as a life-lesson about how the epic fails of spell checker ;-)

We're on a slow cross country road trip that included a stop-off in Telluride, Colorado, for the annual Bluegrass Festival. With few exceptions, we've stuck to old state highways and non-interstate Federal highways, which has made it so much for fun. I'm seeing parts of America I'd never see traveling via interstate.

We're in a van my boyfriend converted to be his home away from home, supplemented by a tent for me. While in Telluride, though, we bumped into a similar sensibility to your story about park benches: there's a town regulation that prevents people from sleeping in their vans in public parking areas. It was strictly enforced, with threats of banishment from the Festival if violated. This made for several very uncomfortable nights for the two of us.

I'm certain that this law came about to discourage homeless people from camping out in Telluride, a liberal and wealthy mountain community. And since I spend a fair bit of time at my son's home in the Portland, Oregon area, I have at least some understanding of the complex issues created by large numbers of homeless people camping out in your community.

But somehow, I feel like we can do better than banning people from camping in their vans or sitting on park benches in our communities. I wish I knew the answers that would allow these things to co-exist more harmoniously.

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I think that's an interesting point about how we've internalized zoning rules. I appreciate your reflections on this.

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Thank you for this. I’ve been pondering the loss of public spaces where folks can BE without having to buy something - stores, restaurants, coffee shops. Welcome to wander or hang out only if you’re buying. Too few public parks and streets with sidewalks busy with people. Hard to be part of the human flow - as in for example, Italian cities - or NewYork where streets with wide sidewalks and window shopping are commonplace. We lose community in suburban settings without public squares.

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What do you think is the difference between racism vs. a culture clash? I'd say the two are much more on a spectrum than many people would be comfortable admitting.

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