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Outdoor dining could become permanent in NYC as architects innovate

In the Summertime, When the Weather is Fine...

Outdoor dining could become permanent in NYC as architects innovate

Outdoor dining has proven to be something of a lifeline for restaurants not only in New York but around the country, as indoor dining remains far out of reach at this point in the novel coronavirus crisis. Faced with restrictive mandates, however, architects, planners, and restaurateurs across the U.S. have been forced to come up with creative ways to keep patrons uninfected while assembling aesthetically pleasing outdoor dining areas.

In New York City, open-air dining may become part of the norm. Yesterday, City Council Member Keith Powers released a report intended to help small businesses in the city stay afloat, and among the measures proposed in Open for Business: Saving Our Small Businesses Post-COVID was the possibility of extending the extant open-air dining program for the long term.

The city’s outdoor dining program was first sketched out in May when Rockwell Group and the NYC Hospitality Alliance teamed up to create a modular, replicable template for how diners might safely inhabit the sidewalk without impeding pedestrian flow in all five of the city’s boroughs. The idea to place enlarged outdoor seating areas in the streets closed off by the ongoing Open Streets Initiative took off, and as Eater reported, over 9,000 restaurants and bars have successfully applied for outdoor dining permits this summer. Apart from the odd car crash (or several), the outdoor dining program has been a success.

However, the current outdoor dining measures are set to expire on September 8, with the possibility of extending them to December 31. The mayor’s office has separately renewed the Outdoor Restaurants program until October 31, but Council Member Powers’s proposal could make the plan permanent to help eateries weather future waves of coronavirus.

Outdoor dining on long island
In downtown Greenport, New York, SHoP’s parklets shield patrons from the street using a scalable model replicable elsewhere. (Courtesy SHoP Architects)

In New York, Rockwell Group has put its plans into practice by designing and helping to install outdoor eating options for a number of restaurants, including Negril BK in Brooklyn, Melba’s in West Harlem, Pa-Nash in Queens, as well as bars and restaurants in the Bronx and on Staten Island.

California has also explored how to keep streets closed and allow restaurants to expand outward for at least the next year. Back on the East Coast, Baltimore’s Design for Distancing project asked architects and planners to envision scalable methods for helping stores and restaurants move their operations outdoors.

Even small towns have been forced to get creative. In downtown Greenport, Long Island, SHoP Architects (which has deep ties to the small town, as it’s home to one of the firm’s first projects, Mitchell Park) rolled out a similar system that could be used in other cities. Using only steel rebar, 8 inch by 8 inch timbers, bollards, planters, and ramps, the team created a kit-of-parts for “parklets” that businesses can deploy in the street for easy outdoor retail and dining.