IOWA CITY — The Catholic Worker House held a “sleep in” protest Monday in hopes of persuading city leaders to reconsider the new Pedestrian Mall bench design.
Representatives of the nonprofit say the new benches, which include armrests in the middle to divide seating, is a “hostile design” that does not allow people who are homeless to comfortably lie down on the benches.
The new benches were installed as part of the first of a two-season construction project to improve the Ped Mall’s underground utilities and streetscape.
Scott Sovers, senior civil engineer for the city, said the design simply was meant to increase seating on the Ped Mall and make people feel more comfortable sitting on a bench with another person.
He added that the bench plans were included in public meetings about the Ped Mall construction before they were installed.
But the new benches “don’t add seating,” according to a Catholic Worker House memo.
“The bars running through them actually take away seating and divide families and close friends from each other,” the memo continues.
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“The new benches don’t help disabled people stand up or sit down. Many homeless people are disabled and have no place to lay their head and rest their back and legs.”
During the protest, dozens of attendees lay on the old painted benches, which remain on half of the Ped Mall and are scheduled to be replaced next year.
Geoff Fruin, city manager, said staffers are gathering information on cost estimates and replacement options if the City Council chooses to act. That information will presented to the council in a public information packet Thursday.
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