Daily News Publishes Op-Ed by Principal Andre Soluri

February 8, 2022

The Daily News has published an Op-Ed by SA’s principal Andre Soluri in support of zoning amendments that are part of the process to create a permanent outdoor dining program.

The Op-Ed discusses how many of the problems in the current Open Restaurant program can be fixed through good design, clear but flexible guidelines, and increased enforcement. Andre also highlights the efforts of New York’s architecture and design community to tackle the challenges

A link to Andre’s Op-ed in the Daily’s News can be found here, however below is the full text of the Op-ed:


“Opportunities to transform our city’s streets in a positive and equitable way don’t happen very often, but the proposed zoning changes currently under review by the City Council to make the Open Restaurant program permanent provide one of those rare moments.

Right now, there’s an army of New York architects, designers and dining enthusiasts who have mobilized to find the best, most equitable ideas for a permanent outdoor dining program. This army is working with community groups, accessibility advocates and the owners of small restaurants to address the challenges and leverage the incredible potential of outdoor dining structures. On behalf of this diverse, passionate and talented crowd, I ask the City Council — where a committee today is weighing the fate of outdoor dining — to give us a chance to show what a permanent program could look like and how we can address and solve its challenges.

Many of the criticisms of the current Open Restaurants program are valid. Like many others, I am frustrated when forced to navigate between dining shacks, restaurant workers, pedestrians and street furniture on tightly packed sidewalks. I am sometimes concerned that the ramshackle construction of an outdoor dining shed may collapse, and often feel embarrassed by how shoddy some structures look. I have been surprised by the blatant disregard for the current program’s guidelines, including some sheds with steps that prevent those with limited mobility from having a meal, or fully enclosed structures that increase the possibility of viral transmission.

As challenging as these issues may be, most can be easily resolved through clear but flexible guidelines, good design and increased consistent enforcement.

But good design doesn’t just happen.

Many criticisms of the Open Restaurants program prove this. I also suspect most outdoor dining structures do not comply with the one-page list of requirements from the program’s initial 2020 roll-out. Unfortunately, a lack of resources prevented many restauranteurs from obtaining and understanding the guidelines, while a lack of enforcement may have encouraged others to disregard the rules. All this leads to the challenges and complaints that we must address.

While an outdoor dining structure may appear simple, each one typically involves making hundreds of design decisions. These include choosing the materials, structural connections and colors, but also where to place the structure — a choice that is made more complicated with bike lanes, nearby crosswalks, fire hydrants and mailboxes.

These decisions greatly impact the success or failure of a design and how positively or negatively it impacts its surrounding community.

Some people are trained to understand these issues, while others are naturally aware of them. However, others do not understand the impact of these decisions — or choose to ignore the consequences. It’s therefore crucial for the permanent program to have the resources to evaluate and review applications for proposed outdoor dining structures before they are built. It’s also critical for the Department of Transportation to have a large enough team to enforce the guidelines — mainly to help restaurants understand them and comply with them, but also to quickly and effectively remedy the situation when there’s a bad actor.

Another way to ensure these many factors are successfully considered is to utilize the services of a design professional like an architect. Larger restaurants can afford these services, but smaller, under-resourced restaurants may not be able to. This is why I, alongside colleagues from the American Institute of Architects New York, the city’s Economic Development Corporation, NYCxDESIGN and Design Advocates, helped co-found the Design Corps, an initiative through which New York’s design community provides pro-bono services to help smaller restaurants design their outdoor dining structures. To date, 70 architects have helped 90 restaurants design compliant outdoor dining build-outs. The Corps is also a key part of a team that has mobilized to craft recommendations to the city for what we hope will become guidelines for the permanent program.

With a series of partners, we are holding a series of roundtables to discuss policy issues. Additionally, an offshoot, hosted by AIA New York, is convening a competition and a series of workshops led by architects and designers. These workshops will use our skills to propose design solutions that mitigate the many potential issues around the implementation of a permanent program.

Our goal is to not only assemble a series of best practices and case studies, but to propose a series of outdoor dining prototypes that can demonstrate the true potential of the permanent Open Restaurant program. I can’t imagine New York City going back to the pre-pandemic days of limited outdoor dining located mainly in our wealthier neighborhoods, and therefore strongly urge the City Council to approve the zoning amendment. We are committed to finding solutions to create a successful and vibrant permanent outdoor dining program that we can all enjoy equitably and be proud of.

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