Chicago Expanding Outdoor Dining and Creative Spaces

March 19, 2021 by Sara Wilkerson

CHICAGO – The City of Chicago announced a new initiative called Chicago Alfresco, which seeks to not only expand the city’s outdoor dining program but also allow businesses and non-profit organizations to design creative long-term outdoor spaces. The initiative is part of the city’s plan to promote neighborhood tourism and open its streets to public life, community, the arts and more. 

“Outdoor dining has become a lifeline for so many of our neighborhoods, but not all of them have been able to take advantage of our safe, outdoor dining programs,” said Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot in a statement. 

Lightfoot continued, “And by creating and transforming public spaces, the Chicago Alfresco initiative will significantly increase our city’s ability to fully revitalize the public way. 

“Last year, we started this program out of necessity to help bars and restaurants stay open safely, now we’ve seen how well this program works and how much the city loves it, so we want to keep it going.” 

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chicago created a special permitting process for bars and restaurants in order to increase dining spaces in accordance with safety regulations. 

As a result of the permit process, bars and restaurants were permitted to operate in private parking lots, sidewalks and in closed off streets. 

With the new Chicago Alfresco initiative, the city is asking chambers of commerce and community groups to design spaces that promote outdoor dining or that highlight what the city calls, “community-focused placemaking.” 

According to Choose Chicago’s information page about Chicago Alfresco, placemaking is, “the iterative process of transforming common spaces into community places by cultivating a sense of ownership, belonging, and safety through community engagement, physical transformation, and the nurturing of community capacity and local leadership.” 

For groups interested in designing spaces for the city, a limited number of grants will be available for eligible projects. Diaego, an international beverage company, has partnered with Chicago to award grants with awards up to $250,000 per applicant. 

“Chicago has never needed its streets more, and we’ve never needed more out of our streets,” said Chicago Department of Transportation Commissioner Gia Biagi. 

Biagi continued, “As the crises mounted last year, we supported neighborhoods with streets open for healthy activity, community connection, and for safe, outdoor dining. 

“As we emerge from the shadow of the pandemic, we must continue to put our streets in the service of what people and small businesses need in their neighborhoods to keep everybody safe and moving while keeping us all together.” The first round of project proposals from neighborhood communities will be accepted by the city until April 15. Visit chicago.gov/alfresco for more information about the initiative and its eligibility requirements for project proposals.

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