NYC’s Sidewalk’s may Never Be The Same: A Brief Overview of The Open Restaurant Program and It’s Path Towards Permanance
Sidewalk dining was a much-needed lifeline for restaurants struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic. Former mayor de Blasio proposed the outdoor dining idea as an emergency, temporary solution to the economic crisis restaurants were facing. Now, two years later, sidewalk dining spaces are more prevalent than ever, though the rushed temporary system has not aged well. New York City council now works to craft a permanent open restaurant program that satisfies both business owners and residents, which has proved to be a challenging task.
In September of 2021, former mayor de Blasio announced City’s plan to make the Open restaurant program permanent. One month later, twenty-two residents sued the city in an attempt to block the program’s progression. In their petition, each plaintiff lists their grievances regarding the permanency of outdoor dining, some of which include: amplified noise, more rats, additional garbage, and accessibility issues. In addition to the formal complaints brought to the New York Supreme court, city residents at large complain about the already limited parking, made more scarce by the street dining setups, and unattractive streetscapes in some cases.
Despite what seems to be an overwhelmingly negative attitude towards the open restaurant program, New Yorkers are actually in favor of keeping outdoor dining, pending an increase in and improved regulation. According to the D.O.T’s citywide mobility survey conducted in October of 2020, (though not released until a year later), 64% of new yorkers support the use of outdoor dining spaces for restaurants, while only 17% oppose it, and the remaining 19% stand neutral. Susan Stetzer, district manager for Manhattan Community Board 3, summarizes the conflict: “No one has taken the position that we shouldn’t have outdoor seating, the issue has been about the sheds and rats, it has been about hours and amplified music.”
Hoping to keep the hospitality industry thriving, with the help of permanent outdoor dining, the New York City council has a roadmap toward a future where the city’s street dining scene may resemble that of a European city, where pedestrians and bistro tables are happily intertwined. By the fall, the city council plans to have established rules for permanent sidewalk dining, taking into account complaints of trash, rodents, parking spaces, and unattractive structures. Following these established rules, official applications are set to open this upcoming winter, with the permanent program set to launch sometime in 2023.
In a city that moves at lightning speed, moving backward to redo the legislature that was designed as emergency relief, is like swimming against a roaring current. But it can be done, especially with the support of a city that values its exceptional food scene.