The Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT) is seeking proposals for its Chicago Alfresco programme to encourage neighbourhood businesses to open up streets and sidewalks and create spaces to support the community.

Businesses and community organisations can now apply for funding to design and build long-term outdoor spaces for dining and public enjoyment, and proposals will be accepted for projects of a variety of types and scales.

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

“As the crises mounted last year, we supported neighbourhoods 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.”

Project types

The initiative will replicate the successful aspects of Chicago’s Expanded Outdoor Dining Permit programme, which was launched in April 2020, and expand on it by incorporating an aesthetic space for arts, culture and activities like walking and biking.

Design guidelines show potential programming elements that can be incorporated in projects, including barriers, surface materials, furnishings, festoon lighting, and landscape materials.

The city has outlined three thematic areas applicants should focus on:

  • Existing plaza programming – CDOT has approximately 50 plazas under its jurisdiction. Respondents can propose to activate these plazas with movable furnishings for outdoor dining and public use, as well as other types of installations.
  • Street/alley activations – Street and alley closures can provide additional dining and community gathering spaces. These will be dependent on the feasibility of the street/alley closure based on impacts on the traffic network. Preference will be given to projects that demonstrate community support for long-term or permanent closures of the proposed project location.
  • Kerb use – Parking spaces along the kerb  could be used to expand sidewalks and provide additional public outdoor space. Platform and non-platform solutions which provide additional space for outdoor dining and public seating will be considered. Projects can incorporate seating on pavements, but a Sidewalk Café permit would be required for dining service.

The deadline for submissions is 15 April, with the first round of approvals expected by the end of April.

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