Wednesday, September 05, 2007

But, we know what we hate...

If you build it in downtown Seattle, they will come...and sit, and deal, and stub:

It doesn't look like much. Just a two-level bench of fiberglass, with legs made from steel plumbing pipes. It was designed to evoke an era when labor halls and working stiffs ruled Seattle's Belltown. The art bench juts slightly into the sidewalk along Second Avenue, intervening in the right-angle-orderliness of the urban grid. Its goal, says the city's art Web site, is to "engage passers-by physically and mentally, as well as visually, by providing places to sit and think."

"Well, it provides a place to sit and think where you might find your next beer," says Dave Markovich, owner of Belltown Barber nearby.

"Or maybe your next crack hit," says Joe Corsi, manager of Concept One, a 70-unit apartment building that opens onto the art bench and a bus stop.

Welcome to Seattle's most hated work of public art. Part of a decade-old "integrated streetscape" called Second Avenue Project, this art bench, between Blanchard and Bell, has become a magnet for an astonishing array of depraved activities. People smoke crack on it. Sell drugs from it. Fight around it. Pee or have bowel movements near it.

Even after a rain Tuesday, the art bench smelled of urine. It was strewn with empties and bags of half-eaten food. While I watched, two men used it to stub out cigarettes.

"It's no longer technically art," Corsi says. "It's a crack house. A bar without walls. This goes on day and night. Everybody — and I mean absolutely everyone who lives on this block or runs a business here — is sick and tired of it."

....something about this bench, with its faux-junk appearance, seems to invite contempt. After I saw it used as an ashtray, another man came by and inexplicably poured a soda on it.

Even if the art itself isn't to blame, what irks neighbors is that because it's art, it can't be moved without special permission from a city arts panel.

"We've been trying to get rid of it for eight years," Markovich says. "But it's part of this Belltown art theme, so the city won't let it go."

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