Rather than scrap the Open Restaurants program, the city should rethink it
Sheds that were some of the first to pop up in the summer of 2020. Two years later, serving food and beverages from lunch until sometimes 4 a.m., they are still going strong, and I hope they continue to do that for as long as possible. Overnight, the city has radically transitioned from almost 100% indoor dining to supporting a new way to use its public spaces. What took Paris and Rome, the city's global counterparts, centuries to refine happened here in a New York minute.
Two years later, lawsuits are pending against restaurateurs, and residents are asking for the City Council to overturn or dramatically alter the Open Restaurants program, as reporter Shelby Rosenberg recently noted ("Speaker Adams wants dining sheds to depart the 'curb lane' and move back to sidewalks").
We should remember that this legislation was passed quickly to help restaurants and bars weather the pandemic. Rather than scrap the program altogether, we need to rethink it and offer guidance on how these structures can be built with integrity and how they can coexist with those who work and live near them.
Our streets were once devoted to the car; private vehicles freeloaded off 200-foot-wide roads, taking up scarce and valuable real estate. Now our neighborhood mom-and-pop restaurants can pay us residents for the use of the same spaces through permits and taxes-adding jobs and eyes on our streets and sidewalks.
Open Restaurants and outdoor dining have been invaluable for additional reasons. The structures, the lights and the gatherings of customers and staff remind us that New York remains alive and well. Serving as a beacon to the streets at night, the sheds also provide safety and community, which many of us feel have been missing.
With solid support from Mayor Eric Adams' Department of Transportation and members of the City Council, more time and more rigorous construction efforts, the two little shanties under my window will become more resistant to pests and sounds, their denizens will be more respectful of my need to sleep, and New York will show Paris a thing or two about how cool a sidewalk cafe can be!