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In the open air: New York seeks to maintain a lifestyle in the fresh air after the virus Health


BOBBY KAYNA KALVAN – Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) – When COVID-19 devastated New York, virus-aware residents who blocked out of closed public places took to the streets, sidewalks and parks. They dined with friends in open barns hastily set up by restaurants, and went to wellness classes, concerts, and even therapy sessions on streets closed to traffic.

Now that the city continues on the road to recovery, the pandemic could leave a lasting imprint on how the city uses its roads: more space for people and less space for cars.

Although indoor meals have been restored in the city – masks or vaccination cards are not needed – outdoor dining decks located in the former car parks, has never been more abundant.

Meanwhile, the city is expanding the Open Streets program, which closes roads to vehicles and opens them up to pedestrians.

The expansion of the program – originally conceived as a way to give New Yorkers more space for sports – is partly designed to increase pedestrian traffic in difficult business corridors and provide low-income neighborhoods with similar opportunities as in higher and wealthier enclaves.

“There were a lot of closures during COVID. There are neighborhoods where there are many, many empty shop windows, and it’s depressing, ”said Mora Harvey, who lives in Manhattan’s Upper West Side. “So everything that brings people back and helps the business and helps the neighborhood feel alive and alive.”

The streets of New York – once places where children played gossipball – were almost entirely handed over to vehicles in the car age, with the exception of occasional summer street fairs.

But over the years, some city leaders have sought to “invent and reshape the use of our streets,” said City Transport Commissioner Idanis Rodriguez, who wants more promenades for outdoor meetings or to provide safe places where parents can teach children to rollerblade. blade, throw a ball or ride a bike.

“The message to all New Yorkers is that our space is their space, that our streets are not just owned by car owners,” said the commissioner, who oversees the Open Restaurants and Open Streets programs.

This rethinking began even before the pandemic. Two decades ago, former mayor Michael Bloomberg oversaw a major expansion of bike lanes and allowed bicycle rental points to be set up on the city’s streets. He advocated for pedestrian areas such as Herald Square and Times Square to keep cars out of pedestrian corridors. And his administration has expanded green roads and waterfront parks, especially in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Mayor Bill de Blasio followed the example of his predecessor and introduced more measures to control and slow down car traffic. He also insisted, like Bloomberg, on Fr. a system that will charge a fare drive through much of Manhattan.

Driven by a car accident that killed a 15-year-old girl in the first days of her tenure, incumbent Mayor Eric Adams has vowed to continue to “take up space for pedestrians”.

Among the legacy of the pandemic may be the reworking of urban food culture by constantly expanding it from restrictions on internal lunches to open-air meals, giving the curbs a bit of a Parisian image.

Prior to the pandemic, 1,200 agencies were allowed to install tables and chairs on the sidewalks. But as part of the pandemic-era Open Restaurants emergency program, more than 12,000 eateries and bars have been granted permission to expand street service.

New York City officials and restaurateurs say outdoor dining huts have helped lure visitors to restaurant tables and helped save the jobs of more than 100,000 workers.

Carmen Ortiz, who runs the Italian restaurant Il Violino in the Upper West Side, is counting on the city’s efforts to increase pedestrian traffic to attract more customers after months of hardship for restaurateurs and their staff.

Ortiz recently returned from a trip to Italy, where she saw many people having dinner in the sunlight.

“But most of those who dined outdoors ate on the sidewalks,” she said. “I didn’t notice they were in the middle of the street like here.”

At the moment, the city’s review of outdoor restaurants is ongoing due to legal problems on the part of some public activists and residents who object to the loss of parking spaces – at least 8,500 places in the city where real estate has always been a valuable commodity. cars or otherwise.

Critics say the barns attracted pests and too many noisy visitors deep into the night – perhaps for some it’s a sign of recovery, but for others it’s an annoyance.

“We now have restaurants on the streets and sidewalks,” said Judith Burnett, whose apartment windows overlook Columbus Avenue, in an area lined with restaurants, and will soon be closed to traffic again on Sundays.

Although she called the initial step in helping restaurants a “brilliant way to help people save their businesses”, it is now unclear if that will remain the case. She doesn’t want to slow down forever, including the buses she rides.

“It confused so much traffic,” Burnett said.

City officials say they have taken these complaints into account when developing new standards.

“Of all the deaths and gloom from the pandemic, one of the highlights is that it has allowed us to rethink our relationship with public space – and everything from outdoor restaurants to open streets,” said Andrew Riga, executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance. , a trade group of pubs and eateries.

He called outdoor lunches a “natural development”, accelerated by necessity and allowing New Yorkers to “enjoy the city in a way they didn’t have before the pandemic.”

Harvey, a resident of the Upper West Side, also called it progress.

“I never liked to eat on the streets of New York before the pandemic. It seemed noisy or dirty, ”she said. “Because now all the restaurants eat outdoors, it has become more integrated into the life of the city – maybe that’s the way it is in Paris or Madrid.”

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