Streetsmart Street Furniture Essentials for Sustainable Cities

Our quest for greener, cleaner lifestyles and desire to combat the downsides of increasing urbanisation is giving urban planners and landscape architects fresh scope to re-think city streets and spaces. And street furniture is taking centre stage.

Efficient public transport. Walkable and bikeable cities and neighbourhoods. Public green spaces. These are the three core elements of sustainable cities, and each one of them gives rise to the need for street furniture and amenities that increase the appeal, accessibility, and usability of outdoor spaces.

In this article, we put street furniture essentials for sustainable and liveable cities in the spotlight, with some inspiring New Zealand examples Urban Effects has created in collaboration with councils and communities.

Parklets and public transport hubs

Public transport plays a pivotal role in the push to reduce traffic congestion and lower carbon emissions. However, New Zealand’s Public Transport Strategy recognises that a public transport system that improves wellbeing and liveability relies on it being cost efficient, accessible and more attractive for people to use.

Funded through the Government’s Transport Choices Program, Timaru City Council trialled the replacement of its existing timetabled bus service with an on-demand service. In the process, the Council embraced the parklet trend which had its origins in San Francisco and grew into a worldwide phenomenon. 

In our parklet project closer to home, the MyWay Parklet we designed and manufactured for the Timaru City Council is a wheelchair accessible, relocatable commuter shelter that features a range of seating options and an interactive play panel for the kids. And reinforcing the focus on sustainability, it includes twin solar panels on the roof to power the parklet’s lights and phone charging stations; and planters attached to its outside walls add a touch of green.

Meanwhile, we’ve worked with numerous Councils to make commuting by bike as convenient as possible by improving end-of-trip facilities with street furniture and facilities including secure bike parking, seating, shelters, and drinking fountains with bottle fillers. One example is Napier City Council which chose the funky Bike Box Bike Rack for their CBD upgrade.

Pedestrian friendly streetscapes

Another major trend to hit the streets of New Zealand’s cities and towns, is the move to create pedestrian friendly streetscapes which bring previously bland streets to life (literally) – delivering an array of social, cultural, and economic benefits.

At the core of this approach is the prioritisation of people and their safe movement, use and overall enjoyment of CBD areas and shopping, entertainment, and cultural precincts through the inclusion of street furniture ranging from modular seating, bollards, waste bins to bike racks.

A standout urban renewal project, the Invercargill City Streets Upgrade is a finalist in the 2024 Resene NZILA Awards in the Civic and Urban Design Category. The first stage of the multi-stage project involved the complete re-imagining of two streets in the city’s centre: with one becoming a shared space; and the other a slow speed street with an entertainment focus. Beautiful timber seating with organic shapes and bright pops of colour and bike racks were just some of the 100-plus products we contributed to help the Invercargill City Council achieve its vision of a “city with heart”.

Meanwhile in Wellington, which was ranked New Zealand’s most walkable city in a 2022 study by the University of Canterbury*, the Tawa Town Centre improvement Project drew on the results of community consultation to improve pedestrian access between the main street and the shopping district.  To aid the transformation of the thoroughfare from an “uninviting wind tunnel” into a place where people could gather and socialise during the day and into the evening, the Council installed Urban Effects Liffiton seats and benches which were customised to include LED lighting to enhance wayfinding and safety after dark.

Pocket parks

Built into the re-design of streetscapes and public spaces, pocket parks provide places for people to meet, eat, exercise, and play in proximity to residential developments and workplaces.

Increasingly being used to reclaim or re-purpose unused or underutilised spaces, pocket parks are equipped with similar ‘green features’ to standard-sized parks such as grass and trees as well as street furniture such as table settings, seating, and shade structures.

Widely recognised as effective ways to encourage social interaction, according to Dr Mike Harris from the University of New South Wales’ School of Built Environment pocket parks are “a fantastic opportunity for council[s] to deliver a community asset, cost-effectively and with minimal disruption, and listen and respond to the needs of the local population through design”.

The pocket park concept was the inspiration behind the FUNiture Collection, the collaboration between Urban Effects and Playground Centre which combines seating and play equipment to create a multi-purpose, multi-generational space in a compact footprint.

Recreation destinations

While pocket parks demonstrate what can be achieved in even the most built-up environments, the protection and enhancement of existing green spaces and parklands, playgrounds and reserves in new suburbs and residential developments remains a planning priority.

The international award-winning Wanaka Lakefront Development provides a masterclass in the creation of a large-scale open space that balances the requirements of a landmark destination for recreation with the rejuvenation and preservation of the natural environment.

We were proud to have played a part in the project, which won an International Federation of Landscape Architects Award for Excellence, with table settings and seating from our NZ made Liffiton street furniture suite selected to provide perfect vantage points for people to picnic or sit and take in the spectacular views across the lake to the mountains.

On a smaller scale, the one-acre Hingaia Reserve is one of Auckland’s newest parks, established as part of the Auckland Council’s ongoing strategy to ensure its rapidly growing population has access to green spaces and outdoor recreation facilities. Furnished by Urban Effects, the park incorporates spacious shared eating areas with wheelchair accessible tables and BBQs, and park essentials – seating and bins – in custom green with laser cut outs of native fauna.

Contact us today  about your outdoor space project and tap into New Zealand’s largest range of smart, sustainable, and social street furniture and equipment. And check out our ExtraOrdinary Outdoors Lookbook for more inspiration.

*Source: NZ’s most walkable towns and cities ranked, University of Canterbury  (5 September 2022)

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