Conversation Clusters Demonstration Project launched in three Ashland parks
The Ashland Parks and Recreation Commission, in collaboration with the Livable Ashland Alliance, is piloting new park seating designed to encourage conversation and connection. “Conversation Clusters,” are public seating that allows users to face each other at a comfortable, COVID-safe distance. The public is encouraged to visit one or more of the sites and provide feedback via a survey.
Ashland Parks is testing three different seating arrangements in three different parks:
Lithia Park, lower lawn facing Winburn Way and Skout: A set of 20 stacking chairs that park users may move around on the lawn
Garfield Park, East Main and California St: A semi-circle of three fixed benches facing a view of Grizzly Peak
Glenwood Park, Glenwood Dr and Ashland St: A circle of four fixed benches near the center of Glenwood Park
While community members are always welcome to gather in public parks, park benches do not traditionally face each other. Anne Bellegia, co-chair of the Livable Ashland Alliance comments “Ashland’s many outdoor spaces were invaluable for maintaining social connections during the pandemic. Face-to-face conversations provide more engagement for those of all ages, and benches can be more comfortable than sitting on the ground, especially for older adults.”
The Conversation Clusters will provide a place for planned meet-ups, for friends to stop while out on a walk or bike ride and for spontaneous conversations among park users.
Interim Parks Director Leslie Eldridge notes, “The moveable chairs at the bottom of Lithia Park are the biggest experiment. We hope the public will enjoy the flexibility to choose their own location on the green. We are trusting the community to use the chairs there and leave them for other park users to enjoy. However, if people remove the chairs from the park or move them to other locations, we won’t be able to replace them.”
To give feedback on the demonstration project, community members should visit one or more of the sites and complete a survey about the different seating styles. Participants may take the survey once for each site they visit. To access the survey online, scan a QR code at the sites or go to surveymonkey.com/r/ConversationClusters. To request a print survey, call 541.488.5342. The survey will remain open through December 17, 2023.
The survey results will be publicized and inform future decisions about park seating. The results will also be shared with community groups that might want to install their own “clusters” in other locations, such as small neighborhood parks managed by homeowners’ associations.
Isleen Glatt, Senior Services Superintendent
Ashland Parks and Recreation