Michigan City, IN, used a simple solution to address challenges with its homeless population: The city removed downtown park benches from sidewalks and moved them into storage.
Problem solved? Not exactly. While the tactic does encourage problem residents to move on, taking away public seating doesn’t address the underlying causes of homelessness.
Still, for downtown leaders at their wits’ end, removing benches is an inexpensive response to a thorny problem.
In August, Mayor Duane Parry ordered the removal of all benches in the city’s Uptown Arts District, a part of town that hosts such high-profile events as the Great Lakes Grand Prix powerboat race and the Taste of Michigan City festival.
“Our population of homeless and panhandlers has increased dramatically,” Parry said, according to the local ABC News affiliate. “We don’t want people that come to Michigan City to feel uneasy on weekends, and we don’t want our own citizens to feel uneasy during the week.”
Grand Rapids, MI, is taking a related approach. Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. is replacing 80 aging black benches with 40 new ones colored bright green and blue. The new benches are built with armrests throughout the body of the bench.
A spokesman for Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. said deterring public sleeping was “not a primary motivation” for the design of the benches.
More on downtowns grappling with unhoused people appears in the February issue of Downtown Idea Exchange newsletter. Click to learn more about Downtown Idea Exchange and other resources for revitalizing downtowns and commercial corridors.