Restaurant Retrofits Week 4: Curbside Questions
I’m taking this week’s column to the streets! Retrofits aren’t limited to the interior space of restaurants; as I’ve written about previously, many restaurants, bakeries, and breweries are engaging in contactless curbside pickup. But this appropriates space in the public realm and requires active curbside management. Boston’s streets are public space, and actually account for 50% of the land under civic ownership. There’s clearly a role here for cities to play. With the weather getting warmer (finally!) and people getting itchy to return to some semblance of a pre-COVID lifestyle, there have been lots and lots of articles about how we might transform our streets, our parking, and our sidewalks. New York has shut down miles of streets for biking and walking, as have cities all over the world (or pedestrians and cyclists have simply taken them over). There are proposals to reallocate street parking for parklets and outdoor seating, accompanied by measures to wave costly fees and regulations around outdoor dining. It seems obvious this is something Boston should do, getting super aggressive on an #openstreets strategy as means to rapidly transform our streets into being more bike and walk friendly, but also provide “expansion” space for socially distant dining during our warmer months. Retrofitting our streets and public realm to privilege walkers and cyclists has already been happening, albeit slowly; nothing like a coronavirus to help expedite and perhaps make permanent!
This week I chose to celebrate Cinco de Mayo with a curbside pickup from Naco Taco in Cambridge. Naco Taco has been closed since the middle of March, but decided to reopen for three days only in order to make Cinco De Mayo “party packs.” (Just in! Naco Taco will be re-opening for takeout and delivery the week of May 11) Located on a busy stretch of Mass Ave between MIT and Central Square, Naco Taco already has an intimately scaled and semi-protected space for outdoor dining. The protocol for party pack pickups, however, was that you were to remain in your vehicle after arriving during your 15 window. A staff member from Naco Taco was there to greet you and then gave your name to a runner who returned with your meal. Easy-peasy. What struck me, though, that this was definitely not sustainable without improved curbside management. This part of Mass Ave is busy and has above average traffic even during a pandemic. While cars were not double parked in a travel lane, customers were using the space designated for an MIT shuttle stop and staff were traipsing back and forth across a typically very busy protected cycle track.
The question many want to know is what will be lasting impacts of the COVID-crisis for our public realm and design of ground floor spaces? How can the line between storefront and street be designed for both porosity and protection? And how will this be reconciled with the inevitable changes inside and around the building, with the public realm and streetscape? No clear answers yet, but lots to contemplate.