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City Introduces High Tech Park Seating on World Wi-Fi Day*

Soofa seating installed in Hildana Park - first of its kind in all of Ohio

Dateline: June 20, 2017 - Soofa is a bench -- a solar-powered, sleekly designed, first-of-its-kind-in-Ohio, phone-charging bench. It’s a place to sit down, plug in, and get connected. And two of them were recently installed in Hildana Park on Chagrin Boulevard, west of Lee Road in the Moreland neighborhood.

Soofa is an MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) spin-off that got its start in hometown Cambridge, MA. Its benches launched in Boston in 2014, and are now in 27 states, 5 countries, and 65 cities. Here in Shaker Heights, they bridge a digital divide, providing internet access in a public space. They are also part of a larger City initiative, Moreland Rising, which seeks to equip this storied neighborhood with the tools needed to address the challenges of the 21st century. Among those challenges are an imperative to live in more sustainable ways and to build upon the neighborhood’s inherent strengths of resilience and community.

The installation of the benches is the culmination of a needs exploration conducted last year by a group of Shaker Heights students to discover how they could improve their neighborhood. The teens were engaged in the MOOS (Making Our Own Space) workshop, a program of the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative (and winner of the 2017 EDRA Great Places Award), and part of the Moreland Rising initiative. Students walked through their neighborhood taking notes on spaces they liked and did not like, and identified those where they saw design opportunities, like Hildana Park. In working to understand why the park felt uninviting and underutilized, students arrived at a simple explanation: There was no place to sit. MOOS students designed and built prototypes for the park and confirmed that the community would happily enjoy seating. The next step was the Soofa. The benches are both functional and fun. In addition to being a phone-charging station, a subscription through Verizon enables free Wi-Fi, and their modern design and colorful presence enhance the attractiveness of the park. 

“Shaker Heights is a progressive community keeping an eye on the demand for today’s technology. Expanding connectivity into a public park seemed like a great place to get the ball rolling,” says Council Member Anne Williams, Chair of the Neighborhood Revitalization Committee.

The lively aqua paint and messaging on the backrests have been customized for the space. They playfully proclaim, Sit down. Plug in. Power up, and This is one smart bench (photo included below). Fun, informative, and inviting, messaging can be changed seasonally or used to market special events.   

The Moreland district invites you to have a seat. The City plans an event to welcome the public to the park and its benches. Specific information to follow.

*Wireless Broadband Alliance Organizes World Wi-Fi Day. The Wireless Broadband Alliance has organized World Wi-Fi day, which will take place around the world on June 20, 2017. The event is a unique initiative that recognizes and celebrates the significant role Wi-Fi is playing in cities and communities around the world. It also works to bridge the digital divide and 'connect the unconnected' by driving exciting and innovative projects. Learn about how you can support World Wi-Fi Day on their site.

Soofa Bench Photos: http://bit.ly/shaker-soofa

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

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