Supporting San José Through the Pandemic — and Beyond

photo of people partner dancing in a street closed to traffic

San Joséans dance to a live band on a block of North San Pedro Street closed to traffic. Photo by Sergio Ruiz for SPUR 

During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the City of San José developed the Al Fresco program, which closed some streets and opened parking lots to allow restaurants, retail stores, gyms and other businesses to operate outside. SPUR advocated for the creation of the program and, based on the benefits it provided to San Joséans, we believe that it’s worth extending beyond the pandemic.

We’re pleased to announce that, through investment made by the Knight Foundation, SPUR will continue its work to support the development of an ongoing Al Fresco program that is feasible in public and private outdoor spaces. In addition to the critical lifeline the program provided for many small businesses during the pandemic, continuing Al Fresco makes sense on a number of levels. While some view the program as simply an economic tool, we shouldn’t overlook the social and mental health benefits it provided San Joséans during the pandemic. SPUR believes the program should be codified in a way that is easy for business and property owners to understand and that streamlines the permitting process. Business and property owners should have the option to use an Al Fresco program that is flexible and cost-effective.  

Programs like Al Fresco will continue to have value as cities lift restrictions. Even before the pandemic, the retail sector was already in a state of flux. The pandemic accelerated the urgency of the situation and sparked creative solutions for how to best support human and economic activity. Although there is still uncertainty as to what life will be like over the long term, we know that cities will need to remain nimble and creative to support the return of public life. And even after San José emerges from the pandemic, outdoor community connections will continue to be essential for our well-being, quality of life and physical health.

Given the popularity of the Al Fresco program, it makes sense to move toward more permanent solutions. But the city must balance creative support for businesses with more technical considerations, such as design standards and safety regulations. SPUR will engage stakeholders to ensure this program continues in a way that is practical and flexible for everyone. Allowing San Joséans to access the social and economic benefits of gathering in spaces like streets and parking lots should be the norm — it shouldn’t take an emergency to lift restrictive rules and allow innovative ideas.  

 

For more information contact San José Director Fred Buzo at fbuzo@spur.org.