Businesses in Birmingham have the option of placing dining patios on the parking spots in front of them, so as not to cramp the sidewalk.
Monday night was a lovely night. Combine the wonderful weather, free crepes, a political protest, a business opening, and the Capitol Theatre being open for exploration and you get a breath of what many of us hope so much for downtown to be.
After the hoopla it seemed natural to keep the momentum going so some friends and I decided to have a drink downtown. Turning the corner from 2nd Street to Saginaw Street, and seeing the packed Blackstone's patio, we realized that we were not the only ones who thought that was a good idea.
In just a year's time, the sidewalk patio at Blackstone's has become a symbol of the new downtown. Even at times when the interior of the pub is fairly dead, the handful of tables outside are often full. While many suburban bars offer lovely tiki-themes patios, and other outdoor seating options, people seem to be coming out of the woodwork to enjoy the novelty of eating out in the open, while watching the street life pass by.
The only thing is, this is hardly a novelty. All over the world, alfresco dining is a standard, casual option. Communities closer to home like Ann Arbor also boast their sidewalk cafes, and people flock there. Just this week it was announced that 501 and Churchill's will be opening sidewalk seating options, however they both had to petition the city government in order to offer such an experience. Some people argue that the sidewalks simply aren't wide enough to accommodate diners, and pedestrians, and in some cases this might be true. Blackstone's and the soon to re-open Churchill's patio sections are recessed into their shopfronts, allowing for more space on the sidewalk for passers by. However, we are not the first community to deal with such an issue. Nearby Birmingham MI. allowed restaurants to "rent" the parking spaces directly in front of their restaurant, build a platform on it, and use the space as extra seating.
Alfresco dining is great for both the diner, and the onlooker. By adding movement and purpose to the sidewalk other than simply transportation, we transform the sidewalk into an exciting public place. By showing that we have active civic live at the street level, we encourage more civic life to occur, and as my friend and fellow activist Erin Caudell said Monday night "I feel like it is my right to eat outside"