Community Resource

Reimagining Downtown to Create More Outdoor Spaces


The time is now for city leaders to take the necessary steps in their downtown areas to create open spaces that will help local shop and restaurant owners now that businesses are open again. In a recent article published by the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), they report on short- and long-term plans to help retailers reopen.

Here we’ve added additional commentary and real-world examples from Jenn Gregory, our downtown expert.

What can cities do to modify ordinances to assist with accommodating outdoor areas for dining, shopping, or pick-up?

Cities like Hoboken, New Jersey are permitting businesses to expand outdoor space on the sidewalk, create shared outdoor spaces as “streeteries” and parklets, and create a framework for businesses to operate further into the street during scheduled road closures.

Edmonton, Canada is relaxing regulations regarding temporary patios, sidewalk cafes and outdoor retail expansions so businesses can create more space for their customers in alignment with CDC guidelines.

Back alleys that are currently cluttered and not well-utilized can be cleaned-up and repurposed for outdoor seating and gathering spaces with overhead string lighting.

Do you have any examples of what downtown shop owners can do to create an outdoor shopping or dining experience?

Consumers are anxious to get back into social settings and return to life as “normal,” however safe social distancing is still top of mind and is likely here to stay. City officials, Downtown District leaders, and shop owners should creatively reimagine outdoor public spaces to temporarily better serve consumers.

Creative activations such as “streeteries” in Tampa, outdoor dining street decks in downtown neighborhoods of Toronto, walk-up windows for retail or quick service food pick-up, and even queuing and pick-up lanes temporarily designated for pedestrians on existing sidewalks will provide piece of mind for shoppers, which ultimately supports local business.

How can cities work with downtown business owners to instill consumer confidence from a health and safety standpoint?

Cities should think temporarily with these activations and installations and coordinate with business owners and Downtown Districts to find out what is needed to safely and successfully reopen. Prioritizing pedestrian activity rather than vehicular will allow consumers to patronize their favorite stores and restaurants, while remaining outside in open air.

Handwashing stations, hand sanitizer dispensers, and walking and queuing lanes temporarily painted or identified within the pedestrian space can give consumers the confidence they need to shop safely.

Should I close my Main Street or interior core street to allow pedestrians to shop with more ease?

In urban, very dense markets, street closures can be potential options for opening up public spaces to consumers. However, we strongly recommend that our more rural community partners implement repurposing strategies rather than closures.

For instance, parking demand is down in most rural downtowns. Cities can temporarily allocate a strip of diagonal or parallel parking as a pick-up lane or as a location for a temporary street deck, while still giving consumers the opportunity to park their vehicles nearby.   

Have Questions About Your City?

If your community is looking for ways to enhance downtown and assist small business owners, we can help. Contact us to schedule a meeting to talk about your specific needs downtown.

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