Arts & Entertainment

NAKED CITY – THE PHILOSOPHER’S SEAT

With Coffin Ed.

As a good citizen of Woolloomooloo, I am always on the lookout for both things that add and detract from everyday life in this fractured precinct of the Sydney City Council. When historic photos of the area cover the hoardings of a building site it’s a plus, when the homeless tragically continue to the dot the perimeter of Tom Uren Place it’s a big minus – but when ‘street furniture’ appears in the most unlikely places, it’s bemusement which immediately defines my reaction.

Such was the case when I recently spotted one of the Council’s new benches, or as they tag them “public domain furniture”, curiously positioned on the corner of Crown and Cathedral Streets. One of a number that have suddenly sprouted throughout the area, it’s not only a long way from any bus stop but faces the somewhat bleak outlook of a solid brick wall.

Whether it’s there to provide a welcome rest stop for the more mature resident, struggling with their bags of groceries from the nearby Woolies or simply as a piece of cosmetic adornment, I am not entirely sure. On thing’s for certain, with its sleek skinny design, and unlike older style park benches, it won’t be turned into a bed for the night by one of the Loo’s many homeless men.

This is of course a somewhat universal trend in the design of ‘public domain furniture’, highlighted by American writer Mike Davis, as far back as 1992, with his ground breaking book City Of Quartz. In his penetrating deconstruction of modern Los Angeles he notes how the homeless are discouraged by the design of “bum proof” park benches – their curvy shape making them almost impossible to sleep on.

Remember the old concrete park benches that one dotted every park and reserve in Sydney. As uncomfortable as they were, they did support a body for the night – something I can well testify to myself, having spent the night on one after a drunken night out at a Cramps concert at Selinas back in the 1980s.

Try doing the same on one of the Council’s new fangled benches and you would be enlisting the nearest chiropractor in the morning. But of course they are designed for more than just a bad night’s sleep. The question is – just what?

Perhaps only the Council knows, but here’s one suggestion for the chique Scandinavian style bench on the corner of Crown and Cathedral that could well see it becoming a favourite with pedestrians. Let’s make it a seat of contemplation, a philosophical pit stop in the hustle and bustle of downtown Woolloomooloo. The naked brick wall which confronts the user needs to be painted with either a series of quotes from the great philosophers or a mural along the lines of The Great Wave off Kanagawa by the Japanese artist Hokusai.

If the concept is a success it could well be repeated throughout the city, with benches assigned the identity of some of the world’s most creative thinkers like Nietzsche and Jean Paul-Satre. A philosopher’s trail could easily be established, whereby pedestrians, joggers and even cyclists could plot a journey of rediscovery and enlightenment from Surry Hills to Millers Point.

Likewise some inbuilt Wi-Fi would enable the seated to tune into a series of audio books, accessible from an online catalogue at the various Council libraries. Imagine you have just staggered out of the East Sydney Hotel after a longer than usual luncheon date, straight into the welcoming arms of the nearby ‘public domain furniture’. You need at least an hour to sober up before returning to work as your smart phone accesses anything from a John Grisham thriller to the collected works of Shakespeare.

Just don’t think about spreading the legs out and sleeping it off!

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