Tech savvy: Shaker's solar-powered smart benches hit Hildana Park

Two new benches adorn Hildana Park on Chagrin Boulevard in Shaker Heights’ Moreland District. But aside from providing a place to sit, these benches offer much more to park visitors.

The colorful, solar-powered Soofa Benches, which launched out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab in 2014, offer both a place to sit and a place to recharge phones and other devices and connect to the Internet. Last month, Hildana Park became the first Ohio location for the benches.

“Anybody who has utilized them just loves them,” says Kamla Lewis, Shaker’s director of neighborhood revitalization. “Which means there is more demand, and that’s not a bad thing.

The Soofas are part of Shaker’s Moreland Rising initiative — a collaboration between businesses, the arts and developers to make the district an innovative and vibrant neighborhood. The idea came about when a group of Shaker middle school and high school students participating in the Making Our Own Space (MOOS) program through the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative  investigated what the park needed to be more inviting and to encourage residents to use it.

The students saw a basic need for seating in the park. The students designed bench prototypes — also considered picnic tables and see-saws in their designs — before discovering the Soofa benches, which today are in 65 cities in 27 states and five countries.

The benches were a perfect fit in the mission to create equity, inclusion and technology opportunities among area neighbors. “Citizen engagement is a key component in making sure people are engaged in the future,” says Lewis. “The solar power shows the commitment to energy efficiency, and the free wi-fi represents that digital inclusion.”

The benches cost $5,000 each, and a city subscription to Verizon covers the wi-fi service. The benches are painted a bright aqua color and feature the messages “Sit down, Plug in, Power Up” and “This is one smart bench.”

Other projects in Moreland Rising have included an architectural component with the  Shaker Design Competition and an arts component with the Chelton Park mural project.

Shaker Heights is planning an event this summer to welcome the public to the park and experience the new benches.

Karin Connelly Rice
Karin Connelly Rice

About the Author: Karin Connelly Rice

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.