In Italian cities, main streets that serve as traffic arteries during the day become pedestrian promenades after the sun goes down, with restaurants placing their tables along them. With the same urban infrastructure serving multiple purposes, space and money are saved. This is increasingly necessary with more high-rise residential and office towers being built, creating congestion at street level as people travel, park, shop, wait for buses, and drink and eat.
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You don’t need to go as far as Italy to see this in action. Just head a block south of Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard and enter the veteran Beit Romano in order to see the dual-purpose principle at work. During work hours, the inner courtyard of this old industrial building serves as a parking lot, bursting with cars belonging to local businesspeople. But when they go home, the place becomes an open space that doubles as an entertainment hub offering concerts, parties and food.
Where do visitors park during these hours? That’s a good question. Some probably arrive on foot from the adjacent Florentin neighborhood; others come by taxi or on one of the buses that stop right in front of the parking lot’s entrance. In addition, the site operators haul in a portable bike-parking device every evening, for the benefit of those arriving on two wheels.
Increasing efficiency through multiple usage can also be observed in small things, such as permanently placed objects on the street. Take, for example, the posts placed on sidewalks to prevent cars from using them. These have sprouted like mushrooms after the rain along many streets. However, in contrast to the mushrooms, these posts are here to stay, and some creative thinking has turned them from an essential but potentially annoying municipal nuisance into a way of enhancing local businesses and improving services.
A wine bar on Marmorek Street, which leads onto Habima Square, uses these posts as a waiting place for customers. Padding upholstered in faux leather is placed over the posts, transforming them into comfortable stools – or what fashion magazines would call “surprising.” When the bar is crowded and people have to wait outside, or when someone goes outside for a cigarette, it’s fun to sit here.
Moreover, gatherings around these covered posts evoke the curiosity of passersby, drawing in more customers and increasing the bar’s profits. At the end of the night, the covers are removed and the posts return to their daytime function as a safety device – until the following evening, when they once more don their faux leather apparel.
A restaurant-bar on the corner of Matalon and Nachlat Binyamin in the Levinsky neighborhood of south Tel Aviv has taken this reappropriation to another level. Industrial designer Rom Maor had the bright idea of taking two such posts and converting them into a retractable street bench. Single posts, meanwhile, serve as a tall bar table that people can use as an outdoors area while having a drink.
Here, again, when the party’s over, the low bench and tall table are detached from the posts and stored inside the restaurant-bar until the sun sets again the next day.
A tray that attaches and detaches from city benches is another creative way of using a public facility to expand a private business’s commercial potential. That idea is ingenious, but raises the question of whether one needs to pay the municipality for this unusual use in which public real estate serves for making private profits, or whether the local taxes paid by the owners of the declared business area are sufficient.
Speaking of benches, let’s sit, take and minute and give them some thought. There are two kinds of benches: the municipal ones provided for people to rest on; and those under the jurisdiction of the Transportation and Road Safety Ministry, meant for people waiting for buses. The responsibility for their placement is divided between separate authorities.
This sometimes leads to redundancy, cluttering the street with excess furniture. Some errors are exasperating – like when a municipal bench is close, but not close enough, to a bus stop without a bench. The folly extends to benches that are situated close to a bus stop but face the opposite direction for you to see the buses coming. It’s the same act of sitting, in the same location, and the street is congested. Cooperation and coordination between authorities would lead to optimal efficiency in usage of the area’s resources and public facilities. Everyone will benefit, including bus users who will find more stops where they can sit while waiting.