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Berkeley, CA, to Convert City Streets Into Giant Outdoor Dining Areas

by Eben Diskin May 18, 2020

California is going European. No, the drinking age isn’t being lowered to 18, but restaurants are shifting their focus to outdoor seating to help keep the spread of the novel coronavirus in check.

In the Golden State, guidelines for restaurant reopening require social distancing measures between patrons and workers, and to accomplish this, Berkeley will be closing many of the city’s streets, converting them into seating areas for local restaurants.

This means the increasing pedestrianization of streets, expansion of outdoor patios, and restaurant scenes that will resemble Barcelona’s La Rambla.

The plan was inspired by Vilnius, in Lithuania, which announced last month that its plazas, streets, and squares would be transformed into open-air cafes. The Vilnius model has been taking over the Bay Area, with San Francisco petitioning legislators to allow restaurants to utilize open spaces near their businesses, and San Jose proposing an “Al Fresco San Jose” program. This proposal would allow restaurants to take over parking lots and closed streets for open-air services.

Berkeley’s plan for outdoor dining is more advanced than most, and would involve completely closing city streets during restaurant operation hours. The city’s next step is determining which streets will close, and how restaurants could repurpose public spaces like parking lots and plazas.

“We will implement this only when it is safe for Berkeley and for the region,” Mayor Jesse Arreguín told Eater, “but we have to start, today, to find a way for restaurants open safely and with maximum physical distancing.”

The fate of the plan lies with the city council, which will vote on June 2. If all goes well, Berkeley’s open-air restaurant concept could be in place by this summer. Arreguín even floated the idea of keeping the program in place post-pandemic, pending its success.

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