August 16, 2023
by: Joseph Corbin
Jing Fong's outdoor dining structure by Lalire March Architects
Jing Fong's outdoor dining structure by Lalire March Architects. Photo: Courtesy of Lalire March Architects.

On August 3, 2023, the New York City Council passed Introduction 31-C, a bill that makes outdoor dining permanent in the city. The bill, which was sponsored by Councilwoman Marjorie Velazquez, was approved by a vote of 34-11. The bill enshrines in law lessons learned from the emergency program during the COVID-19 pandemic, endeavoring to make outdoor dining easier for restaurants than it was during the previous sidewalk café licensing program. Notably, the bill will:

  • Allow sidewalk cafes adjoining the storefront to operate year-round, and for the first time allow roadway cafes to operate from April through November each year.
  • Grant more neighborhoods and restaurants within them to be eligible for participation in outdoor dining in contrast to the pre-pandemic program.
  • Make the Department of Transportation the sole agency to administer licensing of both sidewalk and roadway cafes and develop and enforce rules related to their operation.

In the summer of 2020, AIA New York in collaboration with NYCxDESIGN, Design Advocates, and NYC EDC founded the Design Corps, a network of over 100 architects and designers to render pro-bono design services to more than one hundred economically challenged restaurants to design sidewalk and roadway cafes for the emergency program. By establishing the value of design in the implementation of the emergency program, AIA New York has had a seat at the table in collaboration with the Alfresco NYC coalition with New York City government to help shape the bill which just passed. AIA New York will continue to stay in dialogue with the City regarding the development of the rules of the program, particularly the ones that govern the design of sidewalk and roadway seating, with our primary goal being to ensure that the rules allow for flexibility for restaurants, safety for patrons and neighbors, and improvement of the public realm beyond the business needs of the restaurants themselves.

“This is a major victory for our city’s streets, restaurants, pedestrians, and businesses,” said Jesse Lazar, Interim Executive Director, AIA New York. “Outdoor dining has been a lifeline for restaurants during the pandemic and has helped to revitalize our streets and sidewalks. This legislation will ensure that outdoor dining is here to stay in New York City, and helps make our city a more vibrant and welcoming place for everyone. We look forward to working with the City further and thank Speaker Adams, Council Member Velazquez, and additional sponsors Chief Public Realm Officer Ya-Ting Liu and Mayor Adams, for championing this important effort.”

AIANY celebrates that the New York City Council has finally moved beyond the current emergency order and established a long-term program that will work for both restaurants and residents. While this is a compromise, it will give restaurants the confidence they need to build outdoor dining spaces that are beneficial to their neighborhoods and customers. Public space should be designed for public benefit, and we look forward to seeing how this permanent program will inform future conversations on what public space can and should do for all New Yorkers.


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