How To Create An Outdoor Living Room In Your Neighborhood

photo by Melanie van Zweeden

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.

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.

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 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:, 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.

BenchesCollective from BankjesCollectief on Vimeo.

Cat Johnson is a writer and content strategist covering collaboration, the commons, community and the future of work. Publications include Yes! Magazine, Utne Reader, GOOD, Shareable, Triple Pundit, LaunchableMag, and Lifehacker. She helps collaborative spaces and organizations stand out with custom content creation and strategies. Get content tips and resources at Follow Cat on Twitter and Facebook.

This article was republished from Shareable.

See also:
Tapping The Power Of Place To Keep Us All Healthy
The Greening Of The Commons