Break in traffic accelerates outdoor dining

Break in traffic accelerates outdoor dining

As Melbourne looks forward to opening up post lockdown, a drop in traffic is offering a range of possibilities for creating vibrant outdoor eating and entertainment precincts to be enjoyed safely.

In Victoria, it follows state government funding to support businesses and councils to make outdoor dining a reality this summer.  Three urban design and architecture experts reveal the possibilities ahead and what we can learn from other cities.  

Associate Professor of Architecture and Urban Design Quentin Stevens says cities around the world are recognising the opportunity provided by the abundance of street space left vacant by substantial drops in vehicle traffic.

It’s allowing cities like Melbourne “to repurpose their street spaces for people under the changing requirements for social distancing,” he says.

But, he points out, we’ll need to “act swiftly to retrofit our public spaces to create places that are both safe and social.”

He says this is where tactical urbanism approaches come into play.

It enables the use of “light, low-cost and flexible materials, and gives businesses, community groups and social enterprises the opportunity to rapidly re-shape public spaces for new uses,” he explains.

A key strength is its ablity to “overcome the bureaucratic slowness of implementing urban design proposals.” 

Reopening London's social heart 

The UK’s Westminster City Council was able to overcome bureaucratic obstacles to open-up for outdoor dining in a few short weeks.

Westminster is the social heart of London, and hospitality businesses in the borough produce 3% of Britain’s GDP.

Industry Fellow and Professor of Architecture Tom Holbrook, who heads design practice 5th Studio, worked with Westminster City Council to develop plans to help businesses reopen safely over summer.

He says “these temporary measures established a basis for alfresco dining, extending pavement space and in some cases ensuring timed closure of roads to allow dining in the space of the street.

“The interventions focused on addressing ‘hard’ issues of compliance such as protection of diners from vehicles, servicing requirements, and social distancing.

“Installed and aligned with licensing regulations over a matter of weeks, the work demonstrates how adaptable our cities are, and how priorities in the public realm can be rapidly shifted.”

They’re now looking at how to make more permanent the most successful experiments, and how to adapt alfresco dining to winter conditions in London.

Creative ways of seating people outdoors

Urban planner at the Centre for Urban Research Thami Croeser says it’s fantastic Melbourne is giving over more space to dining, but warns it shouldn’t be at the expense of green spaces.

“It’s key that we try to mostly take the space from roads and parking, rather than the footpaths or green spaces that we need now more than ever,” he explains.

Croeser has three main tips for those re-purposing our streets for outdoor dining and entertainment, which is set to commence in Melbourne once case number targets are reached.

“The magic word here is ‘parklets’, which are creative ways of seating people but also ticking the boxes in terms of safety.

“This is big in San Francisco and other cities where you’ll see a mix of seating, greenery and public art in former car spaces.

“It’s important to get creative and see this as more than just ‘tables and chairs’ because many of us aren’t going to be in the city for work, so these new installations need to have real ‘pull’.

“One last tip – experiment and involve people! This might not be for the fine dining operations, but for cafes and bars, take the time to play around a bit to see what works before committing to a full set of outdoor furniture – ‘pop-up’ style.” 


Story: Diana Robertson

30 September 2020


30 September 2020


  • RMIT Europe
  • Urban Design

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