Case Studies
Outdoor Living Rooms

West Oakland and Los Angeles, CA

beautify streetscape, 
build community, 
improve environment, 
prevent violence, 
reduce health disparities, 
reuse underutilized land, 


 Before and After Source: Steve Rasmussen Cancian

“Outdoor Living Rooms are vignettes of furniture installed in public spaces – simple wood fixtures that give physical form to the social life of the street: waiting for a bus, meeting outside a shop, chatting or playing a game or just lounging. Steve Rasmussen-Cancian works with residents in low-income neighborhoods in West Oakland and parts of Los Angeles, where officially sanctioned and funded improvements are hard to come by.

 Before and After Source: Steve Rasmussen Cancian

The West Oakland Greening Project created the first outdoor living rooms with found furniture: discarded sofas repurposed as sidewalk seating. Their later iterations have been custom-made out of simple materials to recreate the park benches, front stoops and outdoor tables where a neighborhood's inhabitants have traditionally interacted with one another and created a community. At first the outdoor living rooms in West Oakland were regularly hauled away by officials, but more recently the city has informally accepted the installations and offered permits if activists would purchase liability insurance. In Los Angeles, local activists won full permitting for living rooms without fees or requirements to buy insurance, eventually drawing Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to come build a bench.” – San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association

Community Design Process Source: Steve Rasmussen Cancian

Outdoor living rooms are similar to the San Francisco parklet concept, but are more appropriate for communities that cannot afford the infrastructure that parklets require.

Lessons Learned
Potential Benefits:

  • Provides designated public gathering spaces in a neighborhood.
  • Reflects the needs of the community.
  • Is appropriate for both residential and commercial streets.

Potential Issues:

 Seating options Source: Steve Rasmussen Cancian

  • Cost: Although low cost, the cost of street furnishings could be an issue.
  • Maintenance: An agreement should be reached regarding who will maintain the living room.
  • Official intervention: In Oakland, a common problem has been that police take the furniture away.


Hammett, Kingsley. “Sidewalk Living Rooms” (

Steinhauer, Jennifer, April 26, 2008. “Outdoor ‘Living Rooms’ Bring Touches of Cheer to Central Los Angeles” (

San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association. “DIY Urbanism” (

Photo Sources

MIG, Inc.