NYC’s streetside dining sheds, once popular during the pandemic, have now become dilapidated eyesores, causing headaches for officials.

NYC's streetside dining sheds, once popular during the pandemic, have now become dilapidated eyesores, causing headaches for officials.

New York City Embraces Outdoor Dining Structures

Outdoor Dining

New York City is known for its vibrant restaurant scene, with a wide range of culinary options to satisfy any taste. But when the pandemic hit, dining establishments were forced to adapt to new regulations and restrictions. One of the solutions that emerged was the proliferation of outdoor dining structures, affectionately referred to as “sheds” by locals.

Some sheds were simple wooden structures, while others went all out with elaborate decor that matched the restaurant’s interior. They featured plush seating, heaters, plants, and even plastic sheeting to keep out rain and snow. These outdoor spaces provided a unique dining experience and allowed restaurants to continue serving customers during a challenging time.

As New York City emerged from pandemic-related regulations, the fate of these outdoor dining structures became a topic of debate. While many people appreciated them and wanted to see them remain, others raised concerns about increased noise and congestion, loss of street space, and the presence of dilapidated and abandoned sheds that detracted from the aesthetics of the city.

To address these concerns, city officials took steps to make outdoor dining a permanent part of the New York City streetscape, but with conditions. The New York City Council recently passed legislation allowing businesses to set up dining sheds on city streets from April through November, with removal required during the winter months. Sidewalk dining, a pre-pandemic practice, would continue to be allowed year-round, and the areas where it is permitted have been expanded.

The new system has sparked a range of reactions from various stakeholders, although specific details regarding permitting, fees, licensing, and design requirements are still being worked out. However, many restaurant owners, while they would have preferred permanent street dining, are relieved that they can continue to offer outdoor options for most of the year. Andrew Rigie, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, a trade group for restaurants and nightlife, expressed gratitude for the new legislation, acknowledging the positive impact of outdoor dining on the city’s atmosphere.

“I think it creates, when done properly, a much more livable, much more vibrant streetscape than simply keeping or using it just for parking,” Rigie said.

On the other hand, there are voices of dissent. Leif Arntzen, a member of the Coalition United for Equitable Urban Policy, strongly opposes the expansion of sidewalk dining into roadbeds. He argues that the city should conduct an impact study before making any moves towards making it a permanent fixture, as it leads to reduced space for pedestrians, increased noise, and limited emergency access.

Amid the varying opinions, there are restaurant owners who have invested significant resources to ensure their outdoor dining sheds are aesthetically pleasing and well-maintained. Mathias Van Leyden, owner of LouLou bistro in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, understands the concerns about makeshift and abandoned structures around the city. However, he emphasized that responsible owners should not be judged based on the actions of a few.

Valarie Marrs, a resident dining in a restaurant’s street shed in the East Village, complained about the cluttered appearance of the pop-up structures. She called them “terrible” and claimed they negatively impact the aesthetics of the streets. Conversely, Daniel Laitman, sitting next to her, expressed his appreciation for the sheds, citing their ability to provide a cool and breezy space during hot days.

Maulin Mehta, New York director for the Regional Plan Association, views the City Council’s legislation for a permanent outdoor dining program as a step forward. He believes that a thoughtful implementation of the program will allow the city to move beyond the emergency crisis and envision a brighter future for its streets and sidewalks, presenting an opportunity to redefine public spaces.

Overall, the decision to embrace outdoor dining structures in New York City marks a significant shift in urban planning. While there are legitimate concerns and opposing views, the new legislation acknowledges the positive impact of outdoor dining on the city’s vibrancy. With continued dialogue and careful consideration of various factors, New York City has the opportunity to create a dynamic and inviting streetscape that blends indoor and outdoor dining experiences, enriching the lives of both residents and visitors.