Business & Economy
May 13, 2021

The Post-Pandemic Seasonal Restaurant

Here in the Gilford Street minipark in the West End, there is a restaurant – once the fabled Delilah’s (ask your older gay friends), now Robba da Matti – that has expanded their footprint (and their ceiling) to create something more enticing:

Even as they keep their airiness, they are also becoming more formal, more an extension of their indoor space.  Eventually more permanent.  Restaurants capable of creating outdoor rooms will have two year-round options based on the seasons – outdoors in good weather, where landscaping will be as mood-shaping as the interior design.

Expansion into the public realm will of course raise an issue.  How much should be privatized or made special purpose?

In the case of this restaurant, the expansion of the patio originally occurred where the space itself was little-used and didn’t block any walk-through option.  Now it has doubled.  Has it added vitality and helped keep a business alive – or is it an incremental intrusion and a concerning precedent for our public open spaces?


UPDATE: Dominic Brown commented below: “I think you’ve used a photo of the mini-park across Haro from the space in question, that shows a fellow relaxing in a big burgundy-coloured hammock under the cherry trees. That was me. I miss that place.”

You mean this one!


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From The Atlantic:

If you’ve been able to work from home, you’ve had an enormous privilege. But devoid of choice and novelty, remote work has lost some of its romance for office workers who previously dreamed of ending their commute. …

What would be best for most office workers—and what’s most likely to happen for many of them—is something between the extremes of old-school office work and digital nomadism. … I’m here to argue for a particular baseline: three days in the office, and two at home.

Working from home also gives you more control of marginal time in the workday itself. At the office, if you need a break from your computer, that might mean going to stand in line to buy a salad or yet another coffee. At home, it could be washing dishes or folding laundry or doing a grocery run—stuff that would otherwise eat away at personal time. …  Working from home can also open up new choices about where to live; even if you’re commuting two or three days a week, you might be able to opt for a more affordable neighborhood, or a town that offers more outdoorsy activities that’s farther away from the office.

But working from home is also not what most people say they want to be doing full-time in the near future. …  Many people benefit from working and living in separate places. Commutes can have upsides. Last year, I was somewhat embarrassed to realize that I was among the half of American office workers who missed mine; the time I used to spend walking and riding the train every morning provided a psychological in-between, when all I needed to do was let my brain transition into work mode while I listened to a podcast.

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Friend of PT Sam Khany: “Look at this artfully done interim plaza in a unique part of our eclectic industrial lands with neighbourhood serving shops (Ontario at both sides of Fifth) – amplifying our greenways with nodal plazas that traffic calm and create a place for gathering:”




PT: We’ve had a full year of the pandemic, and innovated our way through last spring and summer with bikeways, slow streets, streeteries and patios.  Now we know what to expect, and can raise the bar. By end of summer we won’t be going back to some pre-pandemic use of our streets, even as the virus recedes.

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In the “you just can’t make this stuff up” department, here’s Breckenridge Colorado with a population of 5,000  nestled close to a good ski area.

Remember that town I wrote about,Longmeadow Massachusetts that created a fuss when raised crosswalks actually did their job and slowed traffic? Take a look at Breckenridge who decided not to have their open streets program, called the “Walkable Main”, this summer because it was too successful.

Why? Because it was “too popular and might cause problems for business with hiring staff to serve the 120 percent capacity the street creates” as reported in The Overhead Wire.

But it gets better. The Mayor and Town Council actually nixed the use of streets for anyone except car drivers, despite the fact that over 80 percent of both residents and businesses in Breckenridge wanted it.

As reported by “Drunk Engineer” on the Systemic Failure blog, Breckenridge Council member Dennis Kuhn said that residents on neighbouring streets did not like increased traffic on their streets, while another council member cited ‘safety issues’ with the closed street. Traffic, safety, and economic equity were cited as reasons for dissing the pedestrian open street.

The last word goes to the writer at Systemic Failure:

“Obviously the best way to improve safety is to drive lots of multi-ton vehicles down the main drag.”

Here are two YouTube videos about Breckenridge. The first describes the opening of Walkable Main in 2020, and the second is the building of “Bikeful Tower” of course put right in the middle of the Walkable Main when it was walkable.




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(Click title for videos.)

Buskers are quickly discovering that the 800 Block is the best place to perform in the city – quiet, spacious, lots of seating and a receptive audience.

This performer perfectly captured the mood of the day (add his name, if anyone knows), using the square like a stage.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Art Gallery, a performance of another kind altogether:

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If you are on Southwest Marine Drive near Balaclava, you may have seen Anne Bruinn  doing wonderful things to transform space and also give a giggle to anyone passing by in a bike lane,  on transit, or a vehicle.

Ms. Bruinn scoured Craigslist and looked to recreate the Central Perk studio set from the television show Friends.

As written by Lasia Kretzel and Monika Gul for News 1130 there’s an outside living room set up on the boulevard, and of course there is the “Central Perk” coffee sign.

And she’s invited other people to come and sit down on the replica couches from that famous show, realizing that with pandemic restrictions people are not going into other people’s houses. Ms. Bruinn wins the coveted Price Tags STAR Award for “Seeing Trouble and Responding”.

“Friends gives me good feelings, and I wanted a set that made people happy, and makes you smile.And as long as I’m out there, I’m available. So just come at your convenience, stop in have a coffee. Need anything, I’m here. lf you would just went for a jog down by the river and you’re dying of thirst here I’ve got a bubbly for you. Or, have a seat and have a chat or whatever you need.”

Ms. Bruinn is a published author and writes in a popular blog called “Contests”.

She has been performing on the boulevard for a while, dressing as American Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders with the famous crossed mittens and as a dinosaur.

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Ralph Buehler and John Pucher, two friends of PT, just published an article in the international journal ‘”Transport Reviews” about the impacts of COVID on cycling in countries and cities from around the world – and the editors have given it free access: “COVID Impacts on Cycling, 2019-2020,” Transport Reviews (July 2021).

Here are some selected highlights:

The 11 EU countries averaged an overall 8% increase in cycling, but with a much larger increase on weekends (+23%) than on weekdays (+3%).

The USA averaged 16% growth overall, but similar to the EU, with higher growth on weekends (+29%) than on weekdays (+10%).

Canada averaged a 3% increase, but again more (28%) on weekends, and a decline of 8% on weekdays (Eco-Counter, 2021);

… comparing data from all of 2019 with all of 2020 can be misleading because it includes periods when almost no travel was allowed. A specific example of this is France. During the first lockdown (from March 17 to May 11, 2020), cycling levels fell by 70% compared to pre-lockdown levels. After the lockdown was lifted, cycling increased five-fold to a level 44% higher than before the lockdown. Thus, most year-to-year estimates understate the true increase in cycling when it was allowed. …

Streetlight data for the USA report an increase in cycling trips (+12%) from 2019 to 2020 but a 15% decline in motor vehicle km travelled, indicating a considerable increase in bike mode share. …

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There are six million of them in Great Britain and interest in having them has increased twenty percent during the pandemic.

One of the unintended consequences of having an oversized ship plug up the Suez Canal last month is a shortage of garden gnomes in Great Britain. Garden gnomes are a hot item.

During the pandemic and lockdowns in Great Britain garden centres have been allowed to stay open, and of course that is where you purchase garden gnomes. The Independent’s Clara Hill interviewed Highland Garden World’s  assistant manager Ian Byrne in Whitminster, who stated there was a “massive upswing” in customers purchasing garden gnomes.

“We haven’t seen a gnome in six months now, unfortunately. Raw materials are becoming a bit of an issue and unfortunately, gnomes are a victim of that shortage… Gnomes of any type, plastic, stone or concrete, are in short supply.”

The history of garden gnomes tells a lot about class. In the 17th century garden statues in Europe contained “gobbi”, which evolved to be happy playful forest folk said to provide vigilance and protection of gardens. In Germany which has an ancient tradition of folk tale lore, gnomes began to have the classic toques, round tummies and beards.

But later British attitudes to garden gnomes has a deeper, darker side.  In the 18th century British gentry hired people posed as  “ornamental hermits” to live  in their  palatial gardens and inhabit rustic shacks. They were  told exactly how to behave, right down to not talking, and being asked to grow beards and long toenails.

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One confident post-pandemic prediction: the curbside patio – or streeterie – is here to stay.  Like these on Yew Street yesterday:

Irony alert: some businesses would have opposed the loss of the required curb parking tooth and nail if not for the pandemic.  Instead, this summer we should see some creativity and upscaling of streeterie design, so important have they become in the economics of eating.  (Likewise, more debate at City Hall on how much should eventually be charged for this valuable public space to offset the parking revenue loss.)

As for the inside of restaurants, lots of lessons have been learned that will be incorporated into permanent design changes.  But there’s still a debate as to whether deliberate crowding will be avoided or desired.  From Fortune:

Warren Weixler, cofounder of creative design firm Swatchroom, based in Washington, D.C., agrees. “I think the idea of packing a bar shoulder-to-shoulder and trying to sling as many drinks as possible is a thing of the past.” …

…. some say, not so fast. Knudsen of Concrete Hospitality … predicts (temporary partitions) will be gone by the end of this year. His team is even continuing to add communal tables into their restaurant designs.

“We’re social creatures,” he says. “The pandemic has proven that we need that interaction. And you can’t replace that.” If some packed bars and restaurants in places that have lifted all COVID restrictions are any indication, Knudsen may be right.

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This morning on the Comox Greenway side of Lord Roberts Elementary School, an experiment began.  “School Street” – a pilot program for four weeks at three schools is, according Jeff Leigh of HUB (below left), designed to allow easier access by those who walk, bike and roll to class (or drop off their kids to get there).

Comox has been closed to vehicles for a block during drop-off and pick-up times, but it needn’t be so permanently if safe access was provided (like separated bike lanes, as has been on done on other parts of the greenway.)  There are still places for those in cars to access the school, but ‘School Street’ is as much a message as a physical change.

Here’s Dale Bracewell, the City’s Manager of Transportation Planning, who was present at the creation of the Comox Greenway years ago.

The West End was home to (maybe the first) traffic calming in North America back in the early 70s, and it has weathered various controversies that inevitably occur when changes are made to vehicle access and parking.  School Street is another in the generation of changes to the post-Motordom city.


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