“Truly, the bench is a boon to idlers. Whoever first came up with the idea is a genius: free public resting places where you can take time out from the bustle and brouhaha of the city, and simply sit and watch and reflect.” ~ Tom Hodgkinson
I’ve lived in many cities in the U.S and a few abroad. My favorite was New York City. I moved home to Philadelphia in 2008, here to Chestnut Hill. I am a born and bred Philly girl, well suburbs until I went to Temple U. and lived downtown at 10th and Spruce for a few years, nice neighborhood. All who live in Chestnut Hill I believe would agree we don’t live in a city, it’s a quaint village, a short train ride to downtown Philadelphia, which is a city.
From East to West, North and South, why was NYC my favorite? Besides the museums, parks, restaurants, intellectuals, artist, fashion, etc., I realized it was because of the benches. Why benches? Benches are the best place to people watch.
What makes a great community for me are the people. I love sitting on a bench people watching but I’m being deprived (I’ll get to that in a bit). NYC wins hands down, Tokyo is a strong second, it is umm… exotic?! In New York, I lived on the Upper West Side. I did do a short stay in Murry Hill but I’ve blacked that out… boring, no benches. I’d call a friend and say meet me at 83rd and Broadway or 93rd and Riverside, or I’d go alone with a book, always with a Starbucks in hand and go sit on a bench to watch the entertainment as it walked by. Once there, let the bench entertainment begin, showtime!
It was great, I came to know scads of people. Everyone has a routine and I had my regulars. Big smiles and nods to Gloria – This Nannie is the best, kids screaming in the stroller and she calmly ignores it, while chatting with her Jamaican Nanny friend because she knows… can’t do anything until they get home. “Hey Timi, my girlfriend, look at this hoochie-mama in the mini-skirt, someone needs to tell her she needs to stay out of her daughters closet.” and ugh “here comes creepy.”
Most everyone works out walking around in their gear all sweaty. Someone roller blades by or a bike messenger stops for the light, shirt off all ripped and we’d applaud. We appreciate art! Sometimes our bench would be taken by a weirdo, we got to know them too, or a homeless person, it being their residence for the night, we’d regroup and cross the street to a different bench. Bench sitting was my Broadway on Broadway, for free. I was a known person!
I love Chestnut Hill. I consider it a borough on NYC. I don’t know many people though. I worked at Kilian’s Hardware for 4 ½ years, the hub and no one knows me except painters and UPS drivers. I worked in the back in shipping. I’d meet people and say “I work at Kilian’s” they’d reply, “I love Kilian’s, I’m there all the time, I don’t think I’ve seen you?” hence, I’m invisible. I superficially know my neighbors, four other residents but that’s it.
How come? We don’t have benches! Chestnut Hill has a bench crisis. I’ve counted approximately eight benches on the Avenue from the top of the Hill beginning at the Train Station area to Hartwell Lane where I stopped counting and a generous five benches on side streets. I didn’t count Pastorious Park’s benches because they are broken and the dogs pee on them, not where I want to sit. I have a dog so save it. I know the Water Tower and Farmer’s Market have benches but they’re off the beaten path, don’t count.
I feel pressured to be a customer to sit on a store’s bench and timing is a consideration. If I buy a sandwich at Weaver’s Way, I feel I need to eat and run. This is MY thinking. Weaver’s Way has never kicked me off a bench and I’ve never sat there, I’m just saying… Here is my assessment of the population of benches and locations. One by the Bank of America, (side street), two across the street at the train station, Starbucks has tables not benches, the pretzel shop has a bench I think, one at Artisan’s, two at Weaver’s Way, one on the corner of Graver’s and the Ave. for the bus stop, two at the Firehouse on Highland Avenue where I would never sit… just lonely and a few across from the one “high-rise” next to the train tracks, isolated and obscured. I count the bear in front of Jenk’s as a bench too. I apologize if I missed a bench, I was driving while counting.
There are plenty of little tables and chairs, my assumption is for patrons. The benches here are like parking, put a quarter down, sit, you have 15 minutes. In my opinion I just can’t kick it for an hour or two on a bench, if I did, I might get the reputation as a vagrant and Chestnut Hill doesn’t have homeless people on benches anymore since that dear homeless dude died.
Why aren’t there benches scattered throughout our village? My first thought was to prevent housing for the homeless but as aforementioned we don’t have any. If we did, they have benches with hand-railings to divide sections so people can’t lay down, with spikes too, problem solved. My conclusion is the space limitations, small streets, small sidewalks, no room.
So I did some scouting. The corner of Highland and Seminole Street is a perfect spot to add some benches. The train stops there, it’s a wide intersection and the sidewalks are very bench accommodating. In my estimation five benches could be added to improve the comradery and sociability of the community. Three on the West side of Seminole and two on the diagonal corner.
Some might argue that there isn’t much pedestrian traffic, I reply – wrong. This is a dog walking, biking, running community. I guarantee if benches were put there, people would be sitting on them reading books, enjoying the weather and getting to know their neighbors. As a matter of fact, I’ll be the first one to get the bench party started. Whoever is in charge of benches in Chestnut Hill, please consider. Does anyone want to buy a bench? We will put your name on it. That might work.
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