The folks at the University City District have set a fine example on how to take a small project and make it grow. From The Porch at 30th Street Station, which started with a single grant and now has programming all summer, to the new Tree Seats they're poised to install around University City, the group knows how to secure grants to accomplish projects one at a time. Think of the parklets, which started as a pilot project outside the Green Line Cafe at 43rd & Baltimore, and are now all across that part of town and others, turning parking spaces into somewhere to sit and enjoy the scene while at the same time contributing to rising sales at businesses outside of which the parklet sits. 

UCD office

UCD recently received a $3,900 grant to create tree seats which look like a simple bench around a tree, but represent sustainable thinking too. The seats debuted this summer outside UCD's offices on the 3900 block of Chestnu Street. Right now one can vote on one of two designs, designed by UCD's Nate Hommel, that are designed to help protect the tree, “The Carlton” and “The Will.” The seats are cut from locally sourced black locust, a durable, rot resistant wood, according to the UCD blog. Voting concludes today.

Option number one

Option number two

The tree seats, made possible by a grant from The New Urban Mechanics Grant Competition from the Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics, are designed to get people to talk. “Think of a horseshoe bar at a restaurant,” said Nate Hommel, UCD's capitol projects manager, via email. “You look across the bar and often start talking with someone you otherwise wouldn’t have. We want to bring that social aspect to our public seating.”

“People aren’t likely to sit next to a stranger at a small table even if there are three open chairs,” he said. “Since our Tree Seats aren’t moveable [like chairs in Clark Park are moveable], we thought by shifting orientations of those seated on our Tree Seats that we might encourage people to sit down even if someone is already on the bench.”

Last year, we told you about LoopedIn, another UCD social seating project that put interesting capitol C-looking seats in the middle of Clark Park as a way to change the standard idea of seating at parks. Now those chairs sit outside Dock Street Brewery at 50th & Baltimore. It's this kind of different thinking that has helped UCD transform underused spaces into animated urban places in West Philadelphia.