Placemaking Nonprofit Open-Sources Street Furniture

[by Jen Kinney for] Building an outdoor cafe, adding seating to a local dog park, or installing a pedestrian island at a pesky intersection now requires little more than some plywood and a nearby maker space.

The nonprofit Better Block released 30 free, open-source designs for outdoor furniture in its new Wikiblock libraryMonday. Anyone can download the designs for benches, chairs, tables, fences, kiosks and more, and have them cut from plywood at a maker space using a CNC router, a digitally-aided cutting machine. Most of the designs fit together without requiring glue or nails.

“We’re trying to lower the barrier to entry on fabrication,” says Jason Roberts, founder of the Better Block. “We’re realizing the potential for the every man and every woman. Before, it required an architect, a carpenter, renderings and contractors. At this point, you no longer need all that. You just need your local maker space.”

Some of the designs were tested at Kent State University last month, when College of Architecture and Environmental Design students created kiosks for a Better Block event. The toolkit released today includes five kinds of kiosks tailored to different needs — a bookstore, flower shop, café and even a kayak demonstration stand. More pieces will get a test run in Saint Paul this weekend. A pop-up outdoor theater is being constructed, with a stage, movie screen and more.

Pop-up furniture has become a mainstay of tactical urbanism in recent years. While some lament that the movement is losing its DIY nature as more popular tactics become replicated and codified, researchers have found that street furniture is indeed one of the most significant factors to positively impact pedestrian activity. Street furniture helps keep streets at a human scale, that study suggested.