One thing that struck me about my recent trip to Paris was the al fresco dining. Sure, Paris is world renowned for its cafes and cuisine, but I was surprised to see hungry people waiting in line for a table outside when the indoor tables were literally empty.
Chicago has embraced the outdoor dining experience if only for six months of the year, but part of our challenge in addition to the weather is space. Few sidewalks in commercial areas have more than six feet to dedicate to pedestrians and diners. But, Chicago does have something other American cities like New York City lack: alleys. Eating in an alley may seem odd at first but again, we can look to Paris for
A view from the Arc de Triumph revealed this eco friendly building complete with green roofs and walls.
examples. Every narrow corridor on the left bank was awash with restaurants and cafes. Perhaps, there is a spot in Chicago we can begin to experiment with this approach.
It just so happens that the Metropolitan Planning Council, Chicago’s 35th Ward, and the Chicago Community Loan Fund have teamed up to administer a grant program for local property owners to develop green infrastructure for stormwater management. Funded through the Ill. Green Infrastructure Grants program, this initiative will combine aesthetically pleasing green roofs, walls, rain gardens and swales with Chicago’s green alley program along a specified stretch of Milwaukee Avenue … all the ingredients to produce a stunning and wholly unique al fresco dining experience.
For example, 35th Ward Ald. Rey Colon has already implemented green alleys along Milwaukee Avenue from California to Fullerton avenues behind what is now Revolution Brewing, a popular brew pub with excellent food. As part of the grant program (which will be launched soon, stay tuned), the 35th Ward plans to add at least two more blocks of green alleys in each of the next three years. Part of our vision is to create a real place, a destination, from the investments made in stormwater management that attract people who can enjoy the space, while simultaneously learning about best green practices and enjoying a good brew.
If an alley seems a strange place to accomplish this, consider that sidewalks used to be the place where people emptied their trash and chamber pots, forcing passerbys to walk in the street instead. If we can reclaim the sidewalk, who says we can’t redefine the alley experience too?
For more information about the Ill. Green Infrastructure Grants program, as well as MPC’s work in the 35th Ward, consider attending one of two upcoming workshops on October 17 (in Chicago) or October 18 (in Elgin).