A Friendly Business Guide for Outdoor Expansion

Communities across the globe are scrambling to change laws, regulations, and perceptions to meet the needs of the “new normal.” Just like the scramble to find a vaccine, the proverbial red tape has never been cut so fast to adapt to new circumstances in our cities. We are all in uncharted territory, but frankly it is nothing compared to what our businesses are fronted with. Constantly changing rules have business owners’ heads spinning and, sadly, doors shuttered.

This is not about traditional economic development, this is about economic survival and public health and safety – in lockstep – toward the other side. The saving grace has been the ability to expand business operations OUTSIDE. Who doesn’t want more alfresco dining?!? It sounds so easy – but is it? Do the businesses have the resources and furnishings available or is that an added expense that they can’t even consider? What are the cities’ responsibilities versus the businesses’? How do they apply? Where do they start?

These were the questions going through my mind. I’m not a restaurant or retail business owner, but I am a designer and I want to help. I know there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution – every city is managing the process in their own way and every business situation is unique. BUT, there are some basic contexts where I’ve seen outdoor expansion being practiced, and there are some similar design strategies and guidelines that could be helpful to others.

The Friendly Business Guide for Outdoor Expansion was born from this thinking, along with collaborating and brainstorming with a repeat client (thank you, City of Lakewood) and some non-profits (thank you, Downtown Colorado, Inc. and Community Builders). This guide is intended to offer businesses a one-stop shop for design ideas and considerations as they contemplate expanding their business outside. It includes:

  • Conceptual ideas for common contexts – from attached buildings on a main street to detached, stand-alone buildings with or without a drive thru, these concepts offer a holistic picture for various considerations for outdoor expansion. 
  • General guidelines – with regards to safe distancing, circulation and pick up options, dining area enclosures, signage, and general safety, following these guidelines should generally comply with any city’s new rules.
  • Design ideas – with regards to outdoor seating options, parklets, barriers, distancing, and landscaping. Considering cost and permanence, each topic provides multiple options to consider, but there are certainly more!
  • Resources – this includes links to a Google Drive to see what other communities are doing, links for streetscape rental and purchases, and an online Tactical Urbanist’s Guide (thank you, Streets Collaborative) with more possibilities and precedents to explore. This portion of the document includes some resources from the Front Range of Colorado, as those communities are where this document got its start. However, it can be edited to add more specific resources for your own community!

My hope is that this resource makes it a little easier for businesses in an overwhelming and ever changing landscape. So, my call to action for this audience – likely public and quasi-public agencies and leaders – is to SHARE IT widely. Cities can place this on their COVID recovery resources webpages and include it as part of their business application for outdoor expansion – some already have! Business Improvement Districts and other quasi-governmental agencies can put this on your website as well – or blast it out on social media or in an email to your stakeholders so they are aware of options. Of course, this needs to be explained in the context of what your city is and isn’t allowing at the time.

I wish you all a steadfast recovery! Oh, and GET OUTSIDE (but wear a mask)!

Click Here to Access the Guide

Studio Seed, LLC is a woman-owned urban design and planning consultancy located in Golden, CO. Principal and Owner Cheney Bostic is a leader in influencing local policies to be more design-oriented and equitable. COVID Recovery is now an added service to the firm’s traditional neighborhood, corridor and transit oriented development planning and design roles.

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