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Southport 'People Spot' Benches Attract Climbing Kids

By Serena Dai | July 25, 2013 9:34am
 A bench made especially for the Southport People Spot looks like it's meant to make the area more "posh," said one observer, but kids ended up taking it over.
Southport People Spot Custom Bench
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LAKEVIEW — Fun, funky, modern, artsy and posh were words used to describe Southport's new People Spot benches.

But despite the artsy look of two benches that stretch across a 60-foot space, a mild summer evening proved that the people who loved it most were a little too young to be art aficionados.

Children have been climbing and crawling all over the custom-made benches since Sunday, according to an employee at Uncle Dan's, 3551 N. Southport Ave., the shop in front of the benches.

"It looks like they made it to make the street look more posh, but really, it's just for the kids," said Jake Bridgewater, 25, whose daughter Lily, 5, immediately climbed in a bench's nook.

The benches were custom-designed for the spot by Lakeview architects dSPACE Studio and fabricated by Pilsen company Aaron Bladon. 

The total cost of the People Spot, from the benches and planters to maintenance and insurance, is about $75,000, paid for by special service area taxes and run by the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce, according to Heather Way, the chamber's executive director.

It's part of a citywide initiative to increase public spaceThe spot will stay out until the beginning of December, weather permitting, and will return when temperatures rise again.

The bulk of the cost comes from the one-time creation of the bench, Way said. Custom design may not come cheap, but the mahogany plywood used is expected to last at least a decade, said Way and bench designer Kevin Toukoumidis from dSPACE. 

"We wanted to do something really different and unique that would attract people to the area," Way said. "We look at these as long-term investments in the community."

Reactions have been mixed, Way said. Some commenters on a Southport Corridor Facebook page called it "ugly" and "a waste of space," but Way said a good bulk of the feedback has been favorable.

"I think it's because the style is so unusual," she said. "It catches people off guard."

Passersby one evening eyed the benches, some stopping to touch and sit or commenting on its "wormlike" design. Within 20 minutes, three families with young children stopped to touch, feel and climb the bench. 

"What do think this is, a McDonald's 'PlayPlace?'" Kat Narcisi, 25, said to her daughter Lily. 

Resident BJ McDonald said he didn't see a PlayPlace, a seating space or "a cave," as his son Jack did. 

He saw it as art first, he said.

"I think it works," he said. "It's playful."

That's just the way it was designed, Toukoumidis said. The user should decide what to do with it, he said, and the hope was to create a practical seating area that would also provide "interaction and exploration and curiosity."

Undulating curves could lead to conversations among friends and strangers, extended lounging, lunch dates — and to kids playing, he said.

Southport Corridor is known for being "soccer mom central" because of its swath of young families.

"The intention was not to be a jungle gym," Toukoumidis said, "but we expected kids to explore and use it just like the adults."