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'Ridiculous' Blue Seats Face Buildings, Don't Attract Shoppers, Critics Say

By Mina Bloom | March 11, 2015 5:43am | Updated on March 11, 2015 11:13am
 "The only people who are stopping to sit on them aren't going to stop and shop," said one resident.
Lawrence Ave. Seats
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LINCOLN SQUARE — Unlike most benches in the city, many of the baby blue metal seats dotting Lawrence Avenue don't face the street. Instead, the seats, which were installed last fall as part of the Lawrence Avenue Streetscape, either face buildings or other chairs.

Ald. Ameya Pawar's office said they're an alternative to benches and were built to encourage conversations and help grow local business, but some residents and business owners say they are poorly designed — and not attracting shoppers.

"It's one of the more absurd things I've seen the city do," said resident Jack Kennedy, a lawyer who lives in an apartment building in the 1600 block of West Lawrence Avenue. 

Since they were installed, Kennedy estimates there have been at least three or four instances in which a group of guys have thrown a party on the chairs outside of his apartment building.

"We've noticed people setting up to go drink on the chairs at night," he said.

Mina Bloom says neighbors want a change:

In January, he said roughly half a dozen guys threw a party there by setting up a boom box and drinking beers late at night, right in front of his apartment building.

"We're mystified as to who designed them and what the thinking behind this was," Kennedy said. "It's not really an area people would go to congregate," adding there's only a liquor store, currency exchange and a Vietnamese sandwich shop nearby his apartment building.

"The only people who are stopping to sit on them aren't going to stop and shop," said stay-at-home dad Mike Salazar, 48, who has lived in the neighborhood since 2004. He added that he has only seen either elderly or homeless people use them.

There are two sets of seats outside of Savvy Seconds and 1sts, 1748 W. Lawrence Ave., a vintage shop owned by Christin Fasuga.

"Whoever thought of this needs to quit his day job," said Fasuga. "They're not pretty, they're not funky, they're just ridiculous." 

She added: "[The chairs] are a waste of money. They really make no sense and they allow bums to congregate more." 

The streetscape project, including the seats, were paid for using $12 million in Tax-Increment Financing funds, according to Pawar's 47th Ward office and city records. The Chicago Department of Transportation designed them, according to Brad Gregorka, program coordinator and constituent services liaison for Pawar's office.

Both CDOT and Pawar's office would not say how much the seats cost. 

In addition to installing alternative benches, the project created wider sidewalks and trimmed lanes from four to two between Western and Ashland avenues, which received mixed reactions from residents and business owners. Salazar mentioned the lane trimming has increased traffic where there didn't used to be any.

So far, the alderman's office has received only one formal complaint, according to Jim Poole, Pawar's chief of staff. It was from a resident who reported people who were drinking and creating a ruckus outside of an apartment building at Paulina Street and Lawrence Avenue where there are four seats.

Other residents said they are simply confused by the unconventional positioning of the seats.

"Why would you want your back to whatever's coming your way?" asked resident Jim Walsh, 62. Walsh has lived in the surrounding neighborhoods for the last 30 years, and said he did not understand why they did not face the street.

Similarly, resident Corey Bordo, 31, said: "I'm supposed to sit there and stare at a building? It seems pointless."

Kennedy points to the fact that they're a distance apart. "When they're partying out there, they have to yell," he said.

And in the cold weather metal chairs aren't very appealing, said resident Joan Moore. 

Moore said that while she hasn't "seen a soul" sitting in the seats, she thinks of them as more of public art rather than utilitarian.

"Maybe because of the bright colors and the odd shapes," she said.

Luckily for concerned residents and business owners, the seats are not permanent. Poole said the alderman's office is asking for feedback, and they are open to rearranging them.

"These things are really modular," he said. "It's not difficult to change their positioning to make them better. It doesn't have to be right the first time."

As for complaints about who is using the chairs, "it's certainly not a crime to be homeless or sit on a bench," Poole said.

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