Big Idea 2012: Patios for Peace

How patios and sidewalk traffic help discourage criminal activity

Illustrations by Kathy Boake

It was cloudy and windy. The kind of rare July evening that people would rather spend indoors. But 15 of them sat outside, across from Tres Carnales Taqueria on Rice Howard Way, in a tiny park where the greenery was limited to painted metal benches, which were largely ignored.

That’s because the patrons brought an array of patio and camping furniture on which to sit and enjoy their tacos.

The restaurant was chosen because, after two years spent trying for a patio permit, it’s yet to Houdini itself out of the red tape, even though it’s on the most pedestrian-friendly street in Edmonton. The other reason, says Shannon Leblanc, co-organizer of the sit-out: “It’s always packed in there, anyway.”

Leblanc stopped short of calling it a protest, but did have a message for the City: More patio permits, please. Why? Because patios are lovely, of course.

But what if it also meant safer streets?

Ward 10 Coun. Don Iveson is one of three councillors who want street patio regulations reviewed. “When people know they’re under each other’s surveillance, they not only feel safer, but that contributes to a self-reinforcing, positive sense of safety in the community,” he says. “And when the odd chance of something stupid starts happening, there are a lot of people with cell phones.”

If the crux of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (a principal also known as CPTED) is “more eyes on streets equals more safety,” then areas like 118th Avenue and 124th Street could really benefit. Despite being streets in transition, they boast vibrant dining scenes that are cooped up by sidewalk setbacks, transportation bylaws and AGLC regulations. One rule, which Iveson calls “ridiculous,” prohibits servers from crossing an unlicensed area to deliver alcohol to a licensed area. (However, the onus is on businesses to have windows without tint or decals, which are also preventative tools, as well as to maintain their businesses to encourage more street traffic. After all, businesses with doors that don’t face the street, broken windows or darkened interiors aren’t welcoming and discourage street life.)

Business owners in the food and beverage industry are used to dealing with both municipal and provincial bodies, says Iveson, but “there are things we can do to harmonize and streamline between governments.”

He also wants on-street parking stalls turned into outdoor seating on a temporary basis. “If you can all of a sudden fit a dozen people in a space that would have only brought you a couple of people in a car,” he says, “that would be a better use of that space.” He adds, “I have personally had that experience in Halifax … and nobody got hurt.”

But you don’t have to catch a plane to see this; just turn west of the airport and see how the City of Leduc has allowed any downtown business — not just restaurants — to set chairs outside without obstructing the sidewalk.

Iveson hopes to spend part of fall and winter convincing fellow councillors and ministers to revise guidelines so that, come April, we can have the biggest patio season yet. Actually, he wants patio season year-round: “One of the great things about Edmonton, is you can have nice days in November.”

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