Like almost everyone, I love New York City Open Restaurants Program . Started in June 2020 , it allows restaurants to serve customers on sidewalks and in thestreet without paying rent or fees. As a result, restaurant owners across town have erected makeshift hangars that allowed them to stay afloat during the pandemic; allowed us to eat, drink and socialize safely; and make New York look more like New York in a time when we badly needed it.
But before it's too late, we must demolish these temporary structures. In their place, we should install a more flexible system that could meet the changing needs of our city - whether it's improved discounts, freight zones, community gathering spaces or more than we do. 've not even imagined yet. Let me explain it to you.
The food discountsr look charming and quirky today, but they were built in a hurry and vary in quality and design. In a year or two, they will start to look lousy. Some of them will be dangerous, others abandoned. Some will be damaged by snow plows and garbage trucks. The municipal government, burdened with bigger problems, will neither have the will nor the desire to put in place real regulations or, more importantly, to enforce them. Over time the hangars will become an eyesore.
No, I'm not anti-shed. I am pro-public space. We now have a unique opportunity to redo our streets. Image Image
Today, city roads are largely used for car travel and parking. But we shouldn't have to wait for another pandemic to make our sidewalk space more flexible. The program showed how we can re-imagine city streets and sidewalks as vibrant social spaces. But we need to think bigger than barns.
We could reconfigure the street spaces to change by day, season, or year. In addition, we now have technology like availability sensors, built-in pavement lights and digital signage that can change in real time, signaling which uses are acceptable when.
These tools allow New Yorkers to ask fundamentally new questions about our street spaces. function as rooms toeat outdoors 12 months a year? Or every hour of every day? Can they also serve as pop-up retail spaces, temporary workspaces, or even secure play spaces when not in use by restaurants? They could at times serve as dynamically priced loading areas for trucks, transit services, and delivery vehicles, with the proceeds going towards the recovery and expansion of our transit system.
Keeping the spaces in active use would bring pedestrian traffic which could also generate additional income for the restaurant industry, which should be reimbursed by tax deductions for the expenses they incurred to build the current hangars. Already, Totem Brooklyn, through its design studio Fantastica, has created a modular range of outdoor catering that are functional, customizable and more durable.
When I was deputy mayor, my first rule of government was that "everything which is temporary becomes permanent. "I learned this rule the hard way during my first few weeks as town hall. Immediately after September 11, I decided to set up football pitches in the middle of the Pier 40 in Hudson River Park to provide temporary relief to those whose access to playgrounds had been destroyed by the attacks.
Community groups loved it the idea, and the plan was that they would be removed once the local fields were restored. But 20 years later, these fields are still there, and in some cases, the desire to retain them has indeed been achieved.have blocked plans for the rehabilitation or redevelopment of Pier 40 - even when the plans would have added more recreational space. Image
It also reminds me the effort to unify the look and feel of the city's street furniture. When I moved to New York City in 1983, one of the first things I noticed was how run down the bus shelters and newsstands were. Bus shelters were ugly, rusty, leaking, brown llic horrors. The newsstands were gray shacks. Year after year they got worse.
When I started working at City Hall in 2002, I asked forande to Bruce Ratner, who was the commissioner of the Department of Consumer Affairs under Mayor Ed Koch, why these structures had not been updated. He told me that he tried, but was unsuccessful, to replace them in 1978. Efforts to get rid of them in the years that followed were unsuccessful: kiosk operators were afraid of change; the company that had the right to sell products on them wanted to keep their franchise.
Finally, after four years of efforts involving a half - dozen agencies, in 20 06 the city unveiled magnificent bus shelters and newsstands that generate tens of millions of dollars from income for the city every year , 28 years after Mr. Ratner's first attempt.
If wedo not act quickly, what is temporary will become permanent. The forces of inertia will make us miss a golden opportunity to move away from roads ruled by street parking lots or makeshift shelters into a network of truly flexible public spaces.
Daniel L. Doctoroff is the Managing Director of Sidewalk Labs, an urban innovation company owned by Alphabet, the parent company of Google. He was deputy mayor of New York from 2002 to 2008.
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