I love Where else can you ask for “quotes about chairs” and come up with the exact thought you need?

Nature is by and large to be found out of doors, a location where, it cannot be argued, there are never enough comfortable chairs. Fran Lebowitz

This is true, right?  Seating is important!

You walk into a movie theatre and the first question is “where do you want to sit?”

You walk into a crowded bus/train/airport terminal and you ask “is this seat taken?”

And at this time of year, it’s all about sitting on Santa’s lap.

No doubt, when you’re concerned with downtown design, “seating” deserves a discussion all its own.


To many, seating in a downtown setting is synonymous with benches.

Have you ever walked your main downtown thoroughfare and counted the number of benches you have available? You may be surprised by what you find. We did this during an interview process in a very well-known and respected community. You know what we found? Outside of the downtown park, there weren’t any benches. You might want to go for a walk and do your own counting and evaluating.

So number of benches is important.

The condition and look of the benches is a key consideration as well. Do all your benches need to be the same? No. Should they be coordinated? Maybe. Should they all be well-maintained so that people feel comfortable using them. Absolutely!


But all downtown seating does not have to be in the form of benches. Seat walls are a great alternative especially when they double as the sides of permanent landscape containers or fountains. What is at the base of your town clock ~ is there room to create a ring of seats? Do you have any steps that could live a double life as seating?

And what about temporary seating options? Hay bales make great temporary seating during autumn events. The same goes for ice blocks during your winter-themed events. (Just please add blanket-toppers in both cases!)

Many downtowns offer seating with tables in public spaces to service a variety of restaurant patrons as well as the brown bag lunch crowd. The addition of umbrellas adds shade and a pop of color to further enliven spaces.

Where are your main pedestrian-flow intersections? The best views in town? The quiet spaces? Are there seating opportunities there?

Vacant lots are often looked down upon but as we know, they can be some of the best spots for adaptive re-use, including seating. From a simple green space with the ever-so-popular benches, to outdoor dining or gathering spaces, to a downtown amphitheater, the potential is there.

I’ll leave you until 2016 with a final thought ~ never underestimate the power of a welcome seat ~ and another gem from

When stuck years ago in a job I hated, my only friend was the public bench. As the tedious mornings dragged on, how I would long for the lunch hour, when I would be able to escape the torture of the office and stroll over to the churchyard and into the comforting wooden embrace of one of its benches. Tom Hodgkinson





pa and murals

Cheesesteaks, the Liberty Bell, and the Flyers, Phillies, and Eagles. Philadelphia is known for a variety of things but in the downtown arena, they are especially known for their public art and murals. Did you know that since 1872, the people of Philadelphia have been concerned with the role public art plays in the city? And 1984 was the year the Mural Arts program began, first as a way to address the city’s growing graffiti problem, but now an organization that is recognized as setting the standard for excellence in the practice of public and contemporary art.

What can we learn from this example set by the City of Brotherly Love? I could not possibly say it better so I’ll let these organizations speak for themselves:

From the Association for Public Art in Philadelphia

What is public art?

Public art is not an art “form.” Its size can be huge or small. It can tower fifty feet high or call attention to the paving beneath your feet. Its shape can be abstract or realistic (or both), and it may be cast, carved, built, assembled, or painted. It can be site-specific or stand in contrast to its surroundings. What distinguishes public art is the unique association of how it is made, where it is, and what it means. Public art can express community values, enhance our environment, transform a landscape, heighten our awareness, or question our assumptions. Placed in public sites, this art is there for everyone, a form of collective community expression. Public art is a reflection of how we see the world””the artist’s response to our time and place combined with our own sense of who we are.

Who is the “public” for public art?

In a diverse society, all art cannot appeal to all people, nor should it be expected to do so. Art attracts attention; that is what it is supposed to do. Is it any wonder, then, that public art causes controversy? Varied popular opinion is inevitable, and it is a healthy sign that the public environment is acknowledged rather than ignored. To some degree, every public art project is an interactive process involving artists, architects, design professionals, community residents, civic leaders, politicians, approval agencies, funding agencies, and construction teams. The challenge of this communal process is to enhance rather than limit the artist’s involvement.

What is the “art” of public art?

As our society and its modes of expression evolve, so will our definitions of public art. Materials and methods change to reflect our contemporary culture. The process, guided by professional expertise and public involvement, should seek out the most imaginative and productive affinity between artist and community. Likewise, artists must bring to the work their artistic integrity, creativity, and skill. What is needed is a commitment to invention, boldness, and cooperation””not compromise.

Why public art?

Public art is a part of our public history, part of our evolving culture and our collective memory. It reflects and reveals our society and adds meaning to our cities. As artists respond to our times, they reflect their inner vision to the outside world, and they create a chronicle of our public experience.





Smethport Perspective





Wayfair. Crate and Barrel. IKEA. Kirkland’s. The Container Store. West Elm.     Home accessorizing is big business. And lucky you ”“ not only do you have a home to decorate, you also have an entire downtown. (Did I say lucky you?)

Site furnishings in your downtown are the bells and whistles that can really make an impression. Bike racks, banner and light poles, trash and recycling receptacles, bollards, benches, umbrellas.


Last year, we dispatched weekly emails and related blog posts about downtowns we visited in that span of time. We’d go to a community, take it all in, and then write about the things that impressed us most. Do you know that the overwhelming majority of those posts dealt with some aspect of site furnishings? From town to town, across the Commonwealth and beyond, downtown accessorizing is making an impact.

Aside from the normal discussions of color, material, and location, here are a few other important items that influence whether the accessories make a positive impact. Give some thought to:


Quality is an important consideration, particularly in this context since all your site furnishings will be exposed to the elements, some every day of the year.


Sure. It sounds simple. Pour some concrete and bolt the item down. That is only partially true. Benches are not comfortable if they are not level and umbrellas, bollards, and poles are noticeable for the wrong reason if they are not plumb.


For each element you select, weigh the cost against durability factors versus your need or desire to change things up.


No matter how high the quality of your site furnishings, some maintenance will be required. Build this into your planning and budgeting before any purchases are made and you’ll be far ahead when it comes to keeping everything looking good.


Interject some of your community personality into your site furnishing selections. Is your community associated with a certain period in history, manufacturing of a product, or recreational activity? How might your furnishings play up that connection?

Yes, lucky you! Inspiration is all around and the time is perfect for adding some new site furnishing elements to your downtown.



Let’s jump right to the heart of the issue this month. We’re talking about paving and we’re talking mostly to communities in Pennsylvania ”¦ where it snows ”¦ a lot. Need we say more?

Of course we need to say more! Now I’ll concede to all the arguments you will make about clearing sidewalks, frost heaving, black ice, and anti-skid/de-icers/salt. However, not all paved areas are main pedestrian thoroughfares and even though it feels like it in the middle of winter, the snow really doesn’t last forever.

So what is a community to do?

The key to paving in your community is striking a balance between utility and aesthetics, given the conditions in your area and the ebb and flow of community use.


Cobblestones, clay bricks, interlocking concrete pavers ”“ these all add such charm to a streetscape. Especially when they can be seen and navigated safely. If you are a community in a warm-weather climate, you can create some pretty amazing designs and enjoy them year ”˜round.

paving      paving

However, for us here in Pennsylvania, it is much more important to strike a balance. Maybe brick accents make more sense versus complete brick walking surfaces (pavers exist in many more shapes, colors, and textures now than they ever have before). Or reserving the creative and paver-centric designs for pedestrian plazas or sidewalk dining areas only. What about non-traditional treatments of concrete such as unique scored surfaces, differential broom finishes, or even surface staining. Additionally, urethane binders have created a new set of paving options utilizing recycled glass, rubber, and decorative stones, all of which have proven their worth in even the coldest climates the northeast has to offer.

paving      paving

With paving, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. There is a lot of middle ground that can be manipulated to bring some design punch while standing up to the elements.

Conditions and Community Use

And speaking of the elements, consider weather patterns in light of the ebb and flow of community use. Then pair this data with your paving considerations. If you suffer through some snow in January and February, your approach will be different than if you are blanketed with the white stuff from mid-October through mid-April. If your downtown activity slows down significantly in the winter months ”“ and you’re OK with that ”“ then your tactics will be different than if your community kicks it into high gear when the snow begins to fall.

In all cases, think about how your paving decisions can support your community throughout the entire year.

Flags and Banners 1

flags and banners

Picture this:

An entire neighborhood that puts out identical American flags every Memorial Day, Flag Day, and Fourth of July.

A downtown with coordinated OPEN flags at every shop, café, and restaurant.

Why do these scenes speak to us?

A show of unity.

A liberal splash of color.

A way to elevate the eyes.

An enticement to draw you along the streetscape.

An easily refreshed, seasonal appeal.

An extension of your brand.

A visual interpretation of community pride.

All in a neat little package.

A flag.

Or a banner.

Flags and Banners 1

You would be hard-pressed to find a singular design element that can bring so much to your downtown so easily.

Banners and flags are t-shirts for your downtown. They proclaim a message and show “team” pride. They are colorful and bold. Simply said, flags and banners pack a punch.

No wonder so many communities have embraced them.

But whether you are a long time flag and banner supporter or someone a bit more resistant to their appeal, here are a few things to consider.

Consistency: essential

In order to reap the maximum benefits of a flag or banner installation, your look must be consistent. Please note, this is not to say everything must be the same. But consistent? Yes! In your message and your look  – think color, size, location, mounting height, and even shape. Throughout your downtown and across your districts.

Flags and Banners 3

Refresh: required

Like any wardrobe, keep an eye on the need to refresh. Not only will styles come and go, but the effects of wind, rain, and a variety of other elements will take their toll, wearing out even the most timeless design.

Say something ”¦ but not too much

Your message should be short. Remember, people will be walking or even driving by.

Likewise, images work best if they are stunning and large. Repetitive color can be more impactful than banners that are too busy. (see our previous post here:

Flags and Banners 2

How low can you go?

Placement of banners and flags should be studied before any installation takes place. Consider who your prime viewers will be ”“ pedestrians or those driving into your community. If pedestrians, ensure prime visibility combined with the least opportunity for physical conflicts (as in, don’t hang flags and banners where people will walk into them ”“ you laugh, but I’ve seen it happen!).

Be inspired and inspiring

Of course, your flags and banners may be just that ”“ flags and banners. But they can stand for so much more. Consider this:

I am your belief in yourself, your dream of what a people may become. I am the clutch of an idea and the reasoned purpose of resolution. I am no more than you believe me to be, and I am all that you believe I can be. I am whatever you make me, nothing more.

I swing before your eyes as a bright gleam of color, a symbol of yourself, the pictured suggestion of that big thing which makes this nation. My stars and my stripes are your dream and your labors. They are bright with cheer, brilliant with courage, firm with faith, because you have made them so out of your heart, for you are the makers of the flag, and it is well that you glory in the making.

– Franklin Knight Lane, U.S. secretary of the interior, in 1914

container 3


A marigold in a paper cup. A fistful of wildflowers in a mason jar. The first daffodils of spring.

Flowers don’t have to be elaborate or complicated to make an impact. And your downtown will be better off if you keep that, and a few other tips and tricks in mind through all the seasons of the year.

Dead or alive

Flowers will look much better along your streetscape if they are living. This seems so obvious yet it is worth saying. To keep your flowers happy and healthy, be sure to build a plan for watering and also consider sun and shade. Many streets have a predominantly sunny side and a shady side. Choose your plants accordingly.

plants in shade      dead or alive

And yes, consider dead materials too. More and more, birch and other branches, pine cones, pumpkins, pine boughs, and gourds are being combined with plants or standing alone in a variety of containers.

Holding it all together

Containers can include planters, window boxes, hanging baskets, and more. Consider the size, shape, color, and material. Does your downtown need a standard for containers or does an eclectic mix suit your streetscape better?

container 1      container 4

And no matter the type of container, be sure to consider if there is ample room for these new additions. Planters bordering steps are lovely as long as they don’t make using the steps a problem. Likewise, flowering containers are much less welcome if they are occupying too much valuable sidewalk real estate or if you have to duck under their foliage.

container 2      container 3

Consider unconventional containers like wagons, bicycles, watering troughs, or even actual gardens. Whether you have lots of space or almost no space, find room for green and it will pay dividends.

Keeping it fresh ~ in spring/summer/fall/winter

Take the opportunity to change up your planters regularly. Think of this as an opportunity like putting away your summer clothes and pulling out your beloved autumn ensembles. Do you have seasonal banners? Then why not seasonal plantings for your containers? These changes for each season can become events unto themselves. And revolving planters also keeps the streetscape fresh and provides another point of interest for residents and repeat visitors to return and see what is new.


Adoption works

Program management is an important consideration for any undertaking of this nature. We already discussed the need for watering containers as well as seasonal refreshes. With everything else that is happening in a downtown, this great idea may quickly become daunting ~ unless you enlist help. The precedent has been set in numerous communities. Enlist the help of your local garden club, nursery or outdoor supplier, or just groups of interested citizens from students to retirees. Seek out long term relationships with local employers or churches. Help them let their community pride show!


Elizabethtown Millstone Plaza


Now that summer is officially here, most of us have hit our stride as far as outdoor activities go. For sure, the grill has been put to good use. 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Fridays have welcomed swelling crowds into our downtowns. Brown-bag fans have staked out their favorite picnic table, bench, or seat wall to enjoy a few mid-day moments. And then there are the parks.

Merriam Webster on the web tells us that a park is a piece of public land in or near a city that is kept free of houses and other buildings and can be used for pleasure and exercise. Hmm, interesting definition but not exactly what we had in mind”¦

Lately, we are finding that communities are reinventing what a park is, what it contains, and its role in the community. Take, for example, in DuBois. When a vacant space became a nuisance, three (3) college interns, donated materials, and two new benches turned an eyesore into a community asset.

Parks - Dubois

In Elizabethtown, construction of the new eastern gateway to the borough unearthed several millstones. Happenstance turned to serendipity when we worked with the borough to repurpose the millstones, creating a small plaza located at the entrance to the new bridge, which also serves as a comfortable, artistic, and historic parklet that doubles as a bus stop.

Elizabethtown Millstone Plaza

Even big cities can shine in small ways. Have you ever visited the Board Game Art Park located across from LOVE Park (JFK Plaza) in Philadelphia? A concrete plaza that functions as a shortcut for pedestrians traveling to and from the Municipal Services Building was enhanced with the addition of whimsical art forms. Titled Your Move, introducing oversized game pieces transformed an empty slab into an area for humor and respite.

For PDC members, remember the great presentation on the temporary plaza created in Butler, PA? This project was featured at the 2014 conference in Altoona and highlighted the creative thought and planning that took a barely-used side street and turned it into an outdoor eating and entertainment destination.

Other temporary parks are popping up in parking spaces across the state. Some stick closely to the PARKing Day guidelines while other communities are putting their own spin on this concept.

And why limit yourself to the ground plain? PDC members who attended the Annual Conference Welcome Event earlier this month in Lancaster can attest to the fun, casual, and yes, park-like vibe on the roof at Tellus 360.

Parks -Tellus360

Think small investment for big improvement. Consider your underused spaces or community trouble spots. Talk with your Eagle Scouts, your Garden Club members, your local re-use-it folks. Discover found opportunities that are probably hiding in plain sight, just around the corner, or right above your head.

Gettysburg Elm St Breckenridge Sketch


Many larger US cities have well known districts that boast a distinct personality and vibe. There are the nationally known examples like Chinatown, Cannery Row, the French Quarter, and Pikes Place. But other small American towns and cities have embraced the concept, latching onto a wild array of distinctions to celebrate.

Districts can serve many purposes from community building and civic engagement to simply making your maps and wayfinding easier to comprehend for first time visitors. Consider the multitude of NODOs and LODOs; the East, West, North, or South Sides; the Uptowns, the Midtowns; the Bakery, Meat Packing, Shipping, and Brewery Districts; the Bayfront, Riverfront, and Waterfront; and the ever elusive Arts District. Whatever they are known for, these districts enhance the overall experience within the larger region.

Closer to home, where you may question the viability of districts within the average Pennsylvania community, let’s consider these examples:

  • The Healthcare District in Greensburg (being featured at the upcoming PDC conference in June)
  • Gallery Row in Lancaster (which you can visit if you attend the PDC conference in June)
  • The Third Ward in Gettysburg
  • The West End Theatre District in Allentown

As part of an already successful and larger community, these districts too have made a name for themselves within the larger community context.

If your community has the desire, vision, and operational plan in place to do the same, what are the physical elements you need to consider to move forward?

In Lancaster, the concentration of art galleries and the proximity of the Pennsylvania College of Art and Design could be enough. But capturing the edge of a corner property and creating a long, narrow, but larger billboard of sorts clearly announces Gallery Row.

In Gettysburg, an already much-visited borough for Civil War enthusiasts, some truly authentic historic sites are found in the less visited Third Ward, which is home to the largest concentration of Witness Homes in the borough.

Gettysburg Elm St Breckenridge Sketch

Lastly, in Allentown, the Great Allentown Fairgrounds and the historic 19th Street Theatre anchor a terrific and very special part of the city. Here, great effort went into defining this district through design elements, streetscape enhancements, and even a distinct logo and branding package.

Allentown Fair Gate

Is there a district in your community or in your future? Let us know ~ we’d love to visit or talk about it!

Elizabethtown Rose Alley Lights


Light is varied.   sunlight, starlight, moonlight

Light is rousing.   blinded by the light, turn on your heartlight, you light up my life

Light is inspiring.

Desmond Tutu tells us: Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.

From Charles Dickens: It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.

Desiderius Erasmus extolls: Give light, and the darkness will disappear of itself.

And in your downtown, you have the amazing power to create it. To control it. To bend it to your needs.

Thinking outside the bulb

Lighting in your downtown can be so much more than standard lights on a pole.

Not that there is anything wrong with appropriate and attractive pedestrian-scaled lighting along your streetscape. But the conversation and creativity attached to lighting doesn’t ”“ or at least shouldn’t ”“ end there.

What do you want to accentuate in your downtown? Where do you want to draw a crowd? What needs to stand out after the sun goes down?

There are numerous sources of lighting that can do all that. Twinkle lights, LED in-grade lighting, accent lighting on fountains, blade signs, sculpture, play equipment, projecting light to create an image on a wall, window display lighting, bollard lighting ”“ these are just a handful of options you can use to create a more lively and dynamic setting with light.

Plugging in

At certain times of the year, your efforts will be made easier if you install high-mounted receptacles on standard pole mount lights for add-on lighting during holidays or any time you wish to add special decorations to your existing light fixtures.

Seeing is believing

In Elizabethtown Borough, Rose Alley is enhanced and safely lit using a few wall mounted fixtures and LED in-grade lights.

Elizabethtown Rose Alley at NightElizabethtown Rose Alley LightsElizabethtown Rose Alley Lights

A new outdoor dining and gathering space along Zum Anker Alley in Lititz is adorned with a canopy of lights.

Bulls Head Outdoor Space

Binns Park is a great example of a non-traditionally well-lit space. In the entire park which covers a ¾-acre parcel along Queen Street in the heart of downtown Lancaster, there are no pole lights. Instead, lighting in the park is comprised of façade lighting, canopy lighting, under seat lighting, under wall lighting, and when needed, stage lighting.

Binns Park Lighting

Be bold like Saegertown, who transformed a steel bridge which was a daytime icon, into a nighttime show piece in the community, celebrating holidays, Friday night football, and the French Creek passing below.

Saegertown Bridge - BeforeSaegertown Bridge - After

Star light, star bright, ”¦

A word of caution from, “Human-produced light pollution not only mars our view of the stars; poor lighting threatens astronomy, disrupts ecosystems, affects human circadian rhythms, and wastes energy to the tune of $2.2 billion per year in the U.S. alone. ”¦ [International Dark Sky Association promotes] one simple idea: light what you need, when you need it.”

Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices


Technically Speaking
A Leg to Stand On
The Flip Side
Signs as Art
Signs, signs, everywhere a sign”¦

Your downtown cannot speak. It does not have an actual voice to welcome visitors, tell them where to turn or travel, or indicate the location of all the great things to do in your community. So unless you provide a personal guide for each person who visits your community, your signs are doing your talking for you.

Have you read them / looked at them / noticed them lately? Are they doing the job you want them to do? Are they the voice of your community that you want to hear?

And from a more technical engineering and landscape architectural viewpoint, what do you need to know to make your signs stand up to that challenge?


Technically Speaking

Are you familiar with the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices from the US Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration? This publication is the all-encompassing guidebook when it comes to traffic control devices, or what we commonly refer to as signs.

Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices

The manual states:

Traffic control devices shall be defined as all signs, signals, markings, and other devices used to regulate, warn, or guide traffic, placed on, over, or adjacent to a street, highway, pedestrian facility, bikeway, or private road open to public travel by authority of a public agency or official having jurisdiction, or, in the case of a private road, by authority of the private owner or private official having jurisdiction.


The 862 page manual lays out, in detail, pretty much everything you need to know if you are going to put a sign in your downtown (and beyond).

So that’s the technical resource you need. And trust me, our engineers are quite familiar with this document and all it contains.

But what else is there to consider when it comes to signs?

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A Leg to Stand On

A lot of attention is given to the sign itself ”“ the shape, the color, the words/message. And surely, that is necessary. But you really shouldn’t stop there.

Have you considered what the sign is mounted on? Per standard, many signs must be posted on U-channel posts or square or round, tubular posts. Other larger signs, on wooden break-away posts.

Steel Bollard Sign Post DetailSquare Tube Sign Post Detail

However, if you have control of the post material ”“ what it is made of, its color, its height, and size ”“ you should also consider and plan for the aesthetics of this prominent and plenteous element.

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The Flip Side

And what about the back of the sign? You may not have thought about it but rest-assured, people are seeing the backs of your signs as well as the fronts.

For the Lititz Wall of Remembrance, the front of the sign is a place where people pause and pour over the names off all the honorees. However, the back, which could have easily been left a canvas of stone, functions as a welcome sign at that park access point. You can see this in the second project image shared here:

In West Chester, the backs of the signs and the posts are simply painted to compliment the visual vibe of the front of the signs.

West Chester Sign Back

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Signs as Art

In some communities, the prominence of signs takes on a whole new meaning like in Grove City. Visit this past blog post to be truly inspired by what a sign can be:

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Signs, signs, everywhere a sign”¦

Ideally, every sign in your community ”“ whether they are informational or directional, vehicular or pedestrian, for traffic control or for aesthetic enhancement ”“ should be coordinated. A downtown wayfinding plan can help bring all these elements together. Check out some examples here:

Nashua, NH:

Downtown Lititz:

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