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Outdoor Dining Must Not Interfere With NYC’s Historic Parking Spots

New City Council legislation would preserve NYC's most precious resource: free parking.

10:38 AM EDT on May 19, 2023

Outdoor dining structures at Miss Lily's in the East Village.

(Eden, Janine, and Jim / Flickr)

Paris has the Eiffel Tower, Rome has the Colosseum, but New York City has one irresistible attraction that those cities don't: millions and millions of free, on-street parking spots in some of the most desirable neighborhoods in town.

I'm biased, of course—I spend 95 percent of my life sitting in these spots, watching the world go by and feeling the bird poop rain down on my glass and steel body. But I can't help but feel a sense of civic pride knowing that 61 million tourists come to my city and realize, "Holy shit, we can park a block away from the Guggenheim Museum for free?"

So when outdoor dining started in 2020, I was concerned. People were eating, drinking, sitting, laughing, in places where a motionless car should be! Pandemic or no pandemic, the harmony of the streetscape had to be restored.

Thankfully, the new outdoor dining legislation announced by the City Council on Thursday makes it clear that one of New York City's most precious natural resources—parking for cars—can't simply be erased because the people who live in this city want to performatively eat and drink outside. (Oh, you want to "participate in society"? Take it indoors! I wish I could!)

In addition to charging restaurants $1,050 for a four-year license (which, I must point out, would be an absurd price to charge me and my owner for the stretch of the street I take up but since it is being levied against a business, it feels right), the program for on-street or "roadway" outdoor dining also only lasts from April through November. This is extremely important, because those winter months are when I act as a rat sanctuary, protecting our furry friends from the elements. Ah, when the babies start to gnaw on your wiper fluid hoses? Heaven!

But most crucially, the legislation stipulates, "No license shall be granted for a sidewalk cafe or roadway cafe located in a historic district, on a landmark site or attached or adjacent to a landmark or an improvement containing an interior landmark without the applicant for such license having obtained the approval of the landmarks preservation commission."

As an SUV who has been on the forefront of the vehicular rights movement basically since I was manufactured, I wept tears of oil reading this passage. This is New York City finally saying that parking spots are historically and architecturally significant enough to be preserved! Our homes are part of the city's fabric, and cannot be wrested away by some crass bouillabaisse-slinger or struggling restaurant owner without a vote!

A map of landmarks (purple) and historic districts (tan) from the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Some short-sighted street masticaters have already started complaining that many of the most coveted places to eat out-of-doors are located in the city's historic districts, thus putting up an unnecessary barrier to these fooderies who want to participate in the program.

To these people, I say, yes, they might be nice places to eat, but they're also lovely places to park! Who are they to deny me the pleasure of idling underneath a tall willow in the West Village, or the joy of gazing at the reflections of Harlem's brownstones in my hood, or the excitement of having my bumper peed on by drunk people at 4 a.m. 

Other pedants might point out that outdoor dining in New York City existed long before the advent of free and legal on-street parking for automobiles. And this is true, however—wait, is that the street sweeper? Excuse me, let's pick this conversation up later.

(Photo credit: Eden, Janine, and Jim / Flickr)

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