New York Expands Pop-Up Cafe Program in 2011

City Terrain East
Returning the street to pedestrians with pop-up cafe's (Courtesy RG Architecture)

Returning the street to pedestrians with pop-up cafe’s (Courtesy RG Architecture)

Could 2011 be the year of the pedestrian in New York? Under the guidance of DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, NYC sidewalks will continue their slow march into the street next year as the city launches a major expansion of its “pop-up café” pilot program across its five boroughs.

The first pop-up café tested out in Lower Manhattan this year proved successful enough that Sadik-Khan has expanded the program, planning for up to 12 sidewalk extensions.

NYC Department of Consumer Affairs Commissioner Jonathan Mintz, the Downtown Alliance's Nicole LaRusso, David Byrne, and Janette Sadik-Khan at the pop-up cafe. (Courtesy NYC DOT)

NYC Department of Consumer Affairs Commissioner Jonathan Mintz, the Downtown Alliance’s Nicole LaRusso, David Byrne, and Janette Sadik-Khan at the pop-up cafe. (Courtesy NYC DOT)

The concept is simple: street space is limited and valuable. To that end, New York has been evaluating whether the highest and best use for street space along narrow sidewalks is storing cars. Like a glorified Park(ing) Day spot made (semi-)permanent and held on high, these pop-up cafés invite pedestrians to imagine their city in new ways.

In fact, the concept draws its inspiration from such pedestrian interventions. San Francisco began a Pavement to Park initiative incorporating their own version of the pop-up café, called a “parklet,” several years ago, drawing upon the success of the Park(ing) Day event and pedestrian plazas in New York. California-based RG Architecture designed New York’s pop-up café based on their parklet designs in San Francisco.

Testing out a pop-up cafe in Lower Manhattan (Courtesy RG Architecture)

Testing out a pop-up cafe in Lower Manhattan (Courtesy RG Architecture)

New York’s first pop-up café, recently put in storage for the winter, consisted of a six-foot wide wooden platform spanning about five parking spaces. The space accommodated 14 brightly colored café tables and 50 chairs.

Sadik-Kahn says the concept is not only an innovative approach to urban design, it’s also good for business. Each pop-up café is sponsored and maintained by adjoining shops and the benefits are tangible with up to 14% increases in business when the cafés were installed.

“The Pop-up Café has been like night and day for our business, transforming a loading zone full of trucks into an attractive space that makes our storefront much more visible and accessible to potential customers,” said Lars Akerlund, owner of Fika Espresso Bar, in a release. “This green oasis has really opened up the street, drawing more foot traffic and making the whole area more appealing.”

While each pop-up café is paid for by private businesses, the space is treated as public. Simply relaxing and enjoying the city is free and encouraged.

The city is accepting applications for next year’s pop-up cafés through Friday, December 3.

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