One of the most asked questions in all the talks I gave about public space and placemaking over the years is whether or not people steal movable furniture. Somehow it seems quasi magical that the thousands of chairs at Bryant Park are still there day after day. Are they taken in at night? Are they locked up? The short answer is “no” people don’t take them. But, as with many things in life, it is not quite that simple.
I believe the fairest answer to the question is: If you pick the right furniture, it won’t get stolen. That is something that we can help you with at My Placemaking. The “right” furniture depends of your environment. In parks, and places that have few entrances and exits, and where watching other people is a significant part of the experience, very few pieces of furniture will walk away. In that type of a space, it is perfectly fine to use a lightweight series of mobile furniture, such as our foldable Bistro chairs. However, if your space is in an open street environment, maybe at a parklet or on a reclaimed portion of road, with a fully open space around you, and few regular users, then we would recommend that you invest in a heavier, less easily moved chair and table model, such as the Park Centre. As an example of this, the open plazas on Broadway between 34th and 40th Street in New York used to lose about a chair a day when they were using the bistro model. Once they switched to the Park Centre, the problem disappeared, the chairs stayed.
The right product in the right environment will last a long time, and bring immense value to visitors, regular patrons and nearby shops, buildings and the city at large. Still, you should consider and accept that movable furniture does not last forever. Unless you are operating in a very low usage environment, and the point of outdoor furniture is to make spaces active; then there will be a certain loss factor. To consider the example of Bryant Park where I ran operations, out of 4,000 chairs in the space, and with about 6 million visitors per year, about one-fourth of all chairs were changed every year. Out of those more than 900 were removed due to failure, with only about 100 or so (2.5%) lost to the greater world.
A negligible amount of your inventory provided you chose the right models - will be lost to theft, or as we used to say at Bryant Park “souvenir taking.” The lion’s share of losses will be failure due to the heavy wear and tear that your patrons will subject the furniture to. That in itself will let you know that your program is a success.