In 2020 Philadelphia wrote a temporary new rulebook for managing its streets. To help Philadelphia’s vibrant restaurant ecosystem survive, the City allowed restaurants to claim parking spaces, sidewalk space, or even whole blocks to create space for outdoor dining. The results were staggering: 15 blocks closed entirely to automobile traffic and over 750 parking spaces instantly became al fresco dining rooms directly in the right-of-way (ROW).  The average Philadelphian might not celebrate the City’s swift changes, but  these changes have had a huge impact on how public space projects in the ROW are developed and implemented.

Philadelphia was not alone in its efforts, either. Other cities joined Philadelphia to update how they reviewed designs for new projects, what standards these projects were held to, and how applications were managed and administered.  Cities with more robust ROW public space programs, like New York and San Francisco, and Philadelphia’s peers cities, like Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, and Detroit, all wrestled with similar concerns.

We, as Philadelphians, can learn a lot from cities’ collective experience managing changing demand for the ROW. How cities reacted, and continue to react, to the pandemic can help inform and guide how Philadelphia manages  these spaces long term, to unlock the potential of citizen stewardship of the ROW.