Editorial: A table for all

Posted 6/16/22

The guiding principle should be to keep innovating with public spaces. That philosophy has served Bristol very well for many generations, and it should continue to for many more.

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Editorial: A table for all

Posted

Bristol has always been a leader in planning and utilization of public space. Consider this town’s rich array of public parks, green spaces, open water views and accessible harbor, and contrast it with neighbors.

Warren’s Water Street is a booming restaurant destination … with little access to or even visibility of the water. Contrast that to Thames Street, enhanced by a public boardwalk and many public access points.

Barrington is a booming family community … with woeful athletic facilities. Contrast its Chianese Park, built atop a former landfill, with Bristol’s incredible Town Beach sports complex.

Bristol leaders, planners and community shapers made many smart decisions over many decades to build a community where public facilities enhance deeply the quality of life for its residents.

While the council has opted for a temporary approach to allow outdoor dining on State Street and revisit the issue prior to next year, it now has a chance to be a leader once more. On the surface, the proposal to seasonally trade parking spaces on State Street for outdoor dining spaces seems too limited to serve the greater good. Critics can argue it really benefits only the four restaurants able to consume public space for their private gains. True, it does.

Yet the addition of outdoor dining in a congested downtown environment has benefits beyond the 16 parking spaces that would be sacrificed for half the year. Establishing downtown Bristol as a true gem for outdoor dining — which is the hottest trend in the restaurant industry right now — brings buzz, visibility and economic horsepower to a commercial district that needs it. Too many storefronts have sat vacant for too long, and the root cause is not a lack of motor vehicle parking spaces; it’s a lack of people walking through those doors. (And regarding those 16 lost parking spaces, two public parking lots some 50 feet away are often half-filled.)

Permanent outdoor dining on State Street is not the single stimulant to help the downtown district, but it can be the latest. Bristol can complete and promote a public boardwalk along the full length of its harbor; continue long-range visioning for Thames as a “shared street,” with safe access for both bikers and pedestrians; improve public parking signage; install more inviting infrastructure for bikers; continue building the calendar of outdoor festivals and markets; and dream of a community boating center somewhere between Independence Park and the bike path.

After they codify the outdoor dining spaces along State Street, town leaders should consider more permanent options for competing restaurants. If table space and public safety can be reasonably balanced, then let more businesses enjoy the benefits of outdoor dining.

The guiding principle should be to keep innovating with public spaces. That philosophy has served Bristol very well for many generations, and it should continue to for many more.

2022 by East Bay Media Group

Barrington · Bristol · East Providence · Little Compton · Portsmouth · Tiverton · Warren · Westport
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Mike Rego

Mike Rego has worked at East Bay Newspapers since 2001, helping the company launch The Westport Shorelines. He soon after became a Sports Editor, spending the next 10-plus years in that role before taking over as editor of The East Providence Post in February of 2012. To contact Mike about The Post or to submit information, suggest story ideas or photo opportunities, etc. in East Providence, email mrego@eastbaymediagroup.com.