By Larry Leung
There is something new on Bloor Street! Three years in the making, the Bloor-Yorkville Business Improvement Association (BIA) unveils innovative public spaces dubbed the Urban Campfire Benches that promote art, business, and community in time for the holiday season. In a two-part series, we will take an in-depth look at these benches and discuss how design and innovation can drive engagement/sales.
We interviewed Briar de Lange, Executive Director of the BIA, on the concept’s inspiration and what the Association would like to achieve with the project.
Over the past year, the BIA installed 60 benches along Bloor Street in Toronto’s popular Yorkville area. Designed by the award-winning local agency, DTAH, these benches have a 270-degree circular shape and are crafted out of wood, granite, and stainless steel.
The inspiration behind the concept is to build sitting areas along Bloor Street that incorporate elements of “durability, comfort, luxury and modernism.” Multiple designs were created with a prototype first introduced in 2018. The successful trial led to the complete build-out.
Each bench has a sitting area for four to five people and includes many thoughtful touches such as a seat back to improve safety and wide spacing for item placements. An elm tree is planted in the centre that would host lighting decorations in the winter and serve as a shading canopy for the summer sun.
The campfire pit look is achieved through a combination of carve-out stainless steel surround and lighting blocks under the wooden seating area that could flicker based on a pre-programmed configuration.
Fiery orange is not the only colour available. The BIA can program the lighting blocks into an “unlimited” number of colours based on seasons, occasions, or other purposes. They illuminate the street into an array of orange, red, and green after sunset for the holidays. As a fun element, visitors can interact with the lighting through the fire-shaped button installed on every bench.
When Art, Business, and Community Intersect
The benches are located on Bloor Street, which hosts luxury retailers such as Holt Renfrew, Harry Rosen, Hérmes, and Dolce and Gabbana. Taking that into consideration, the design and materials used have a “distinctive high-end feel” but retain a sense of ease and comfort.
The BIA and DTAH turn what would otherwise be a “boring” public bench into an art piece by adding the innovative lighting system and stainless steel surround. There are opportunities to configure this lighting system into different combinations year-round (e.g., red/pink for Valentine’s Day, red/white for Canada Day), which will build variety and improve engagement during the evening/night.
With the project, the BIA wants to insert more “personality” to the main Bloor Street corridor. It also serves as a complement to the shopping experience, the Village of Yorkville Park and the Yorkville Murals. People living in the community can use these benches as “meeting places, pitstops for runs/walks, and wayfinding points.”
While no formal decision has been made, de Lange noted that there might be opportunities for local businesses to sponsor the benches for a limited time in the future. The BIA is also studying other ways to engage visitors, businesses, and the community with these benches.
The Holiday Experience
Along with the new Urban Campfire Benches, the Association completes the holiday experience by bringing back last year’s Crown Lights installation with 139 lip trees and transforming the Village of Yorkville Park into a paradise for locals, tourists, and content creators.
Where Can You Find Urban Campfire Benches?
The new Urban Campfire Benches are located on Bloor Street between Church Street and Avenue Road. They are accessible from two subway lines (Yonge/Bloor Station (Line 1 and 2) and Bay Station (Line 2) and are within a 25-minute transit radius from other downtown Toronto landmarks such as CN Tower, Toronto City Hall, and Cadillac Fairview Eaton Centre.
In the next part of the series, we will highlight our discussion with the project’s designer DTAH, a service innovation being trialed with the Urban Campfire Benches, and how design and innovation can drive engagement/sales.
About the Author
Larry Leung is a Principal at Transformidy which focuses on customer experience transformation incorporating technology, journey mapping, and engagement innovation. He has a deep understanding on the retail, service, technology and travel sectors and have been quoted by GlobalTV, Vancouver Star, USA Today, and CIO Magazine. www.linkedin.com/in/lkfleung