Section 3.4

Adapting in the Pandemic

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many of the above regulations governing the use of the public realm in our commercial districts were adapted, consolidated, and enhanced for quick and easy processing through executive orders.

For example, the Open Storefronts Program replaced, in some ways, the Revocable Consent Permit and Stoop Line Stand License, by allowing businesses engaged in retail trade, food service, repairing goods, personal care services, and dry-cleaning and laundry services to use outdoor space (including sidewalks) for seating, queuing, or display and sale of goods. The permit also allowed businesses to sell prepackaged food on sidewalks and restaurants to use sidewalks for take-out or delivery operations. The easy online application for the permit allowed businesses to self-certify that they complied with site requirements.

In addition, the Open Restaurants Permit application process was simplified and allowed food establishments to self-certify that they met program requirements in order to speed up approval processes. The simple one-page intake form enabled a large adoption of the program with participation distributed fairly across all five boroughs and a range of commercial districts.

“They didn’t have to sign a liability agreement for open streets. That made it. Self-certification was such an easy process, it didn’t trip anyone up.“
Carey King, Uptown Grand Central

However, many of these executive orders expire at the end of 2022, leaving the City with an opportunity to reimagine a post-pandemic regulatory landscape that gives rise to inclusive opportunities for public realm management and programming. In particular, City agencies will need to consider regulatory and programmatic tools for lowering barriers to participation in public spaces located in under-resourced neighborhoods.