It’s no secret that businesses and local governments have needed to be flexible and innovative to overcome the ever-changing roadblocks of the COVID-19 pandemic. Restaurants have faced an ongoing barrage of changing rules, challenges, and even shutdowns as the coronavirus continues to reshape daily life and the economy.
To help support the health of the economy and the public, local governments have stepped up and worked with the restaurant industry to nurture one of 2020’s shiniest gems — streateries.
“Streateries,” or “streeteries,” is a term that combines “street” with “eateries” and describes the inventive dining spaces that emerged around the United States in response to the global pandemic. These improvised eating spaces transformed parking lots, street parking, street lanes, and even entire streets into outdoor patios.
Streateries gained notoriety as an example of creative solutions to problems that have emerged from the COVID-19 pandemic; when stay-at-home orders become relaxed, streateries provide patrons with a safer place to dine in the open air. However, these open-air dining spaces are actually a product of the City of Seattle, where businesses have been collaborating with the local government to create mini-parks and streateries for about seven years.
Creating a streatery is no small task. These outdoor dining areas must be large enough to not only accommodate people that would normally eat inside, but also allow for social distancing between patrons. With streateries eating up enormous amounts of space, local governments must coordinate with and provide ample support to the restaurant industry for successful street planning.
To set up outdoor dining spaces, restaurants often expand their preexisting patios into nearby parking lots, sidewalks, and lawns to accommodate their customers, who can no longer dine safely indoors. Some restaurants without patios carve out makeshift streateries in streets and other inventive spaces. During the coronavirus pandemic, the layout of each streatery must meet the CDC’s guidelines of maintaining six feet of distance between people.
Because streateries use public spaces, restaurants must work closely with local governments. For example, restaurants must procure a permit that allows dining in spaces that are typically for public right-of-way — as city planners did with programs created in Madison, Wisconsin and Eugene, Oregon. Local government programs can expedite the process of establishing streateries by providing quick permits that promote economic recovery.
Local governments can support the restaurant industry and streateries by shutting down streets, redirecting traffic, installing barricades, and providing the necessary permits for restaurateurs to move into public spaces. The support of local government helps keep pedestrians, drivers, and restaurant patrons safe.
Businesses have historically opposed changes to transportation — especially changes that block or close down avenues of car traffic. However, many transformative measures to the Right of Way such as vehicular street closures can actually benefit businesses. Adding bike lanes and promoting pedestrian traffic, for instance, are both good for business. 2020 saw local governments recognize this and shut down vehicle traffic as a means of attracting pedestrians to local businesses and fostering economic recovery — as they did in Hoboken, New Jersey.
When the pandemic struck, transportation agencies across the country responded to small businesses requesting street closures, to increase outdoor space for safe dining. Having an expanded area for outdoor seating has been a lifeline during this economic crisis, but it’s also opened eyes towards a new vision for streets and commerce.
Local governments have worked with restaurants to quickly reconfigure the structure of their cities to accommodate new dining spaces and provide much-needed boosts to their local economies.
Streateries are more than just a functional stopgap during the COVID-19 pandemic. The streateries that emerged in 2020 were often inventive, effective, and even beautiful. This restaurant industry trend will continue to thrive across the U.S. from cities such as California’s warm Costa Mesa to colder regions where streateries have survived the winter.
Streateries provide opportunities for restaurateurs and local governments alike to display their grit and creativity, and they will likely have a lasting impact on the structure of modern cities — it’s no stretch of the imagination to think that some streateries may become more permanent fixtures in many cities, even when life begins to return to normal after the pandemic. In many cases, cities will have to consider how to safely restructure to accommodate expanded dining, pedestrian right-of-way, vehicular traffic, and transit.
With Americans growing accustomed to enjoying the outdoors while they dine and COVID-19 fears likely to linger after the pandemic is over, the streatery may very well become a common fixture in the landscape across America.
As we move forward with economic recovery and growth, local city governments and businesses must continue fostering strong relationships. “Normal” has changed throughout the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, and there will be an ongoing need to innovate, be flexible, and coordinate.
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