Earlier this summer we relaxed at this summertime pop-up mini café on Sullivan St. (between Prince St. and Houston St.), a small plant-filled patio taking up exactly one parking spot space outside the café Local.  Taken with the idea of appropriating parking spaces to enjoy summer in the city and beautify the streets, and because we are often involved in projects about urban mobility and spaces, we dug a little deeper and soon discovered that the tiny oasis had come to fruition under New York City’s “pilot” program, a program that fast-tracks worthy new ideas and initiatives past red tape that would normally hold up progress of these initiatives by perhaps years.

By first piloting innovative proposals on a small scale, the city can then gather data and evaluate each initiative’s potential before broadening the scope or making a serious investment into them. Some of the projects under pilot status have become permanent, such as the pedestrian plazas in Times Square and Herald Square. Others have been shown to be ineffective and cancelled with minimal waste, such as a taxi-sharing scheme that seemed promising but was deemed unsuitable after one year. The scheme is not limited to mobility and transport—education and eradication of poverty are some other issues that are being tested out under the pilot label.

There were six applications for pop-up sidewalk cafés in SoHo, with the local community boards making the final decision as to which could go ahead; resident opposition saw only the Sullivan St. pop-up café be approved. They cited noise and crowds among their fears. Whenever we walked past the sidewalk refuge, however, we found it charming and relaxing.  It’s certainly nicer on the eye than a delivery truck or a car with New Jersey license plates.

We don’t live in SoHo, however, so our vote probably doesn’t count. With the pilot lasting from May to October until the end of next year, the good news is residents will soon be able to make a more informed decision on whether the pop-up patios truly enhance or hurt the neighborhood.