Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Open Seating?

Today is an absolutely gorgeous day. The city is winning the war on lead poisoning, and the weather outside is perfect.

Walking downtown, there are lots of people outside. Tables at sidewalk cafes are full. It's warm, and a seat at a table under an umbrella is very inviting. Why not have more?

It takes years for a shade tree to grow up and produce shade, but a table under an umbrella offers instant shade.

What do people think of the idea of creating a sidewalk table program for the heart of downtown? There would need to be a sponsor, but we could set it up so anyone could grab a seat for free. Under an umbrella. Watching the world go by.

The owners of Gitto's and Starbucks might not like brown baggers taking up their cafe tables, but certainly people bringing their lunch to work would like a place to sit outside and eat on a nice day like today.

What about the homeless, wouldn't they take up all the free tables? Probably not. They don't seem to congregate outside the Christian Science building next to the Post Office. Besides, we're sharing downtown with homeless people anyway, and a homeless person needs a place to sit for a while the same as everyone else.

Yeah, there are benches in parks already, so why would we need to add tables and umbrellas to sidewalks? The best reason I guess is that it puts more people on the street. For me, personally, given the choice? I think I'd rather sit at a table and chair on the sidewalk than under a tree on a grassy field in a park. That's just me.

I wonder if any other cities have adopted free sidewalk cafe table programs to improve street life? It seems like a low cost way to inject some much sought after pedestrian activity. I like it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Another outstanding idea. There are few things that give urban cores a sense of vitality as al fresco does. Even if people would rather eat inside, the appearance and availability of it makes cities and neighborhoods lively and attractive.

In fact, I love driving through the CWE for that reason alone.

I think there are ways that the homeless issue can be managed -- it is not a dealbreaker.

One of the most magical nights of my life took place in an area similar to what you describe. It was on my honeymoon in Nice, France. There is an area there called the "Marche au Fleur" (flower market) where the equivalent of a couple city blocks consisted of nothing but umbrellas, seemlessly connected from restaurant to restaurant. Remembering the food, cosmopolitan setting and the miniature lights along the umbrellas makes me want to go back.

Good luck with this one!

Bill Burnes