Lifelong friendships often start with a simple conversation with a stranger. BenchesCollective, a grassroots community organization, wants to spark those conversations by inspiring and teaching people how to create outdoor living rooms. The initiative, which originated in Amsterdam in the Netherlands, has more than 1,000 registered benches throughout the Netherlands and several other countries, including Brazil, Turkey, South Africa, and the U.S.

There are over 1,000 registered BenchesCollective benches around the world. Photo by Lilian  Sijbesma

The project is a reminder that our sidewalks are shared spaces. It also reinforces the notion that having a sense of ownership of our public spaces is vital to creating thriving neighborhoods and cities. The benches connect people who might not otherwise be brought together.

Two BenchesDays in June and September mark the beginning and end of BenchesSeason, during which time people are encouraged to create their own outdoor public space and offer coffee, tea, snacks, or — as one bench host did, salsa lessons.

BenchesCollective is a reminder that our sidewalks are shared spaces. Photo by Wardie Hellendoorn

Shareable connected with Mischa Woutersen, who coaches BenchesCollective ambassadors, about the best way to open a local bench. Here’s his advice:

  1. Choose a good spot in your street to hang out with your neighbors.
  2. Think of a nice activity, dish, or drink to share. Check benchescollective.com for inspiration.
  3. Arrange a nice bench of seating area to host your activity. This can be a private bench or a public bench on your street.
  4. Open your bench on: bankjescollectief.nl/en/join/, so it is visible online.
  5. Make a Facebook event, share your bench on Nextdoor, and inform local press.
  6. Invite your neighbors to enjoy a fun afternoon.

“People can open their bench on any day of the year,” Woutersen said. “However, we encourage everyone to join our movement on the 11th of June. Then, we organize the biggest open air café of the world.”

The BenchesCollective team is currently working on tools, including a poster generator, to make it easier for participants to promote their benches. Woutersen encourages people to become ambassadors for their town or neighborhood.

Contact Woutersen for more information and guidance. Header photo by Melanie van Zweeden. Follow@CatJohnson on Twitter