Mobile Street Furniture

Note: This is a guest post by Nicola Twilley.

Over the past two weeks, in two separate cities, multiple sightings of IDEO-like user-generated adaptations have reframed the motorbike as an intriguing addition to the emerging category of street furniture.

[Image: Photo by Lucy Crosbie, used under a Creative Commons license].

The first example was spotted outside Richard Rogers's Channel 4 building in London, where a cluster of bike couriers had put their feet up onto their bikes' handlebars, tipping their helmets down over their faces, and allowing the seats to form a gently curved cradle for their spines. They thereby squeezed in a quick nap between jobs.

Then, last week, as the streets of Trastevere overflowed with Romans celebrating the Festa della Repubblica, an unlucky Vespa parked next to a bustling enoteca was claimed as a bar stool and drink stand by several different groups over the course of the evening.

In both cases, the bikes suddenly appeared remarkably well-designed for their off-menu functionality: the hammock-like seat cushion and broad, flat rear looked purpose-built for backs and beer, respectively. In fact, with just a few adaptations and some thoughtful urban planning, their potential as mobile street furniture could be taken to the next level.

Simple additions—such as a gently vibrating seat cushion to work out muscle knots while couriers are snoozing, or flip-out cup holders behind the seat of the Vespa—combined with reserved parking spots for motorbikes outside bars and popular brunch spots, would surely enhance city life.

Ambitious entrepreneurs could carve out a seasonal niche by deploying a fleet of specially customized motorbikes as on-demand mobile seating. Perhaps tourists visiting Rome for the day could even rent motorbikes in a shady side-street so as not to miss out on their expected siestas. And, particularly in London, where dedicated outdoor beer gardens—a losing proposition for at least three hundred days of the year, but the most desirable real-estate in the city on those few hot, sunny days—smart publicans would eagerly pay to rent a dozen Vespa bar stools for their clientele to enjoy.

In each case, the motorbikes would be gone by the time pedestrian and vehicle traffic started up again—their mobility ensuring that streets and sidewalks remain uncluttered at peak flow.

It would only be a matter of time before low-platform flat-bed trucks had rentable sofas installed in the back and were then parked at scenic overlooks, while empty lorries were re-purposed as hammock dormitories, circling airport terminals to snap up jet-lagged travelers intent on maximizing layover time. The first international Mobile Street Furniture Conference in Milan would be swiftly followed by the creation of an industry-sponsored urban planning lobbying arm, high-profile design contests, and premium membership schemes, allowing unlimited worldwide street furniture rental...

[Previous posts by Nicola Twilley include The Water Menu, Atmospheric Intoxication, Park Stories, and Zones of Exclusion, among many others].

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry to burst your bubble, but these things pollute like hell. How about bicycles instead? Kind of hard to put a beer on a bicycle seat, but you're not likely to kill yourself if you ride home drunk on it.

June 08, 2009 8:51 PM  
Blogger Kevin Clement said...

On a slightly related note, I just noticed you're in Rome, and if you haven't made it to the Parco della Musica, I went to a car show there last Friday that might still be going on. Besides a steller lineup of old and new ferraris, I was surprised by a fleet of the most souped up Jeeps I've ever come across (w/ militant off-roading Italian groups to boot). The tour guide for the auditoriums is cool as well...
Maybe your company could offer customers a two-in-one experience: offroading, on a large, pink designer couch, to Roma Alta Moda.

June 08, 2009 10:32 PM  
Blogger Kevin Clement said...

And, whether bikes or motorcycles, I'm imagining Chinese consultancy firms, fueled through micro-loans, viral marketing, and a long history of bike functionality adaptation, teaching European companies how to effectively soup-up their bikes.

June 08, 2009 11:06 PM  
Anonymous rhys williams said...

I have just returned to the UK from working for an very interesting little firm in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Because of the relatively low income levels the 2 wheeler is by far the favourite mode of transport - leading to a prolific number of mopeds and motorbikes parked at each street corner, street vendors, and food wallah. It is a very common thing for people to sit and smoke in social groups on a number of these parked vehicles until the owners come back - indeed while they are parked they are considered to be more or less community owned.

June 09, 2009 7:12 AM  
Blogger (bur-clay-sitch) said...

Trying to make a case for planned wide spread use of motor scooters as public furniture for sidewalk cafes, etc...is kind of like advocating the use of chainsaws as can openers. Sure it works. But, in a strange, overkill, silly kind of way. Sometimes it's just easier to grab a can opener.

June 09, 2009 10:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

why would you discuss two photos that are apparently remarkable enough to spawn an entire speculative blogpost w/out posting the selfsame photos? and yes, this practice is quite common in most asian cities where the density of the two-wheeled transport makes it de facto resting, sitting, sleeping space.

June 10, 2009 1:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The guys at the used tire place down the street from me can be seen lounging -- apparently comfortably -- using the larger empty tires as chairs.

June 27, 2009 10:13 PM  

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