Mott Street reclaims road-space from cars for outdoor dining amid decline in COVID-19

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Mott Street preparing for an open space dining experience on July 29. (Photo by Mark Hallum)

Mayor Bill de Blasio may have endured criticism for taking less than a lukewarm approach opening streets for social distancing and to prevent an influx of vehicles during the pandemic, but local organizations are filling the gap.

Mott Street from Worth to Mosco has outdoor seating for ten restaurants and over 100 customers who will be able to enjoy some of best Asian food Chinatown has to offer in an enclosure free from cars, according to organizers.

Apart from the city Department of Transportation which authorized the street closure, the Rockwell Group and Dine Out NYC is attempting to make a lively and safe go of it considering much of the controversy around open air dining in since it was allowed in Phase III reopening.

“I think this could last well into the fall and I think people will have to be nimble and creative about how to do that,” David Rockwell, an architect by trade who help founded Dine Out NYC. “I think the city is incredibly resilient and we’re seeing that.”

After several instances of vehicles plowing into outdoor dining areas in the last few weeks, Rockwell believes that the design of the booths provided by sponsors are sturdy enough to add protection in the event of a crash alongside the street being barricaded off.

“Another part of the [pandemic] is that it made us appreciate public space in a different way. I guess one of the miracles of New York is that you have a whole wide range of people having figure out, collaborate and agree,” Rockwell added.

There is also a beautification aspect to the open dining program that incorporates a local artist and students from the Transfiguration School.

Sammi Qu-Kwok is an artist born and bred in Chinatown whose family owns an eatery nearby. For the stalls, Qu-Kwok made stencils representing different kinds of dumpling and enlisted the help of the students fill in the color. Traditional Chinese enamel art designs, known as Jingtailan, are represented on the plywood barriers where folks would sit adding color to the streets which have been reanimated with foot traffic since the height of the pandemic.

Dine Out NYC has experimented with this setup in other parts of the city as well and has a partner in Melba Wilson, proprietor of Melba’s in Harlem.

Moet Hennessy, Resy and America Express were all partners with Dine Out NYC as well as the Chinatown Business Improvement District.