2017-06-08 / Opinion

Newport al Fresco

Newport is becoming a city of sidewalks. When the weather is warm it is becoming increasingly possible, in various parts of town, to enjoy a meal, a cocktail, or a cup of coffee or tea, in the open air.

As recently as two summers ago such examples of al fresco socializing, particularly on Broadway, were not quite so ubiquitous. Who can forget the months of angst over the Broadway Streetscape Project, the traffic, the backhoes, the backup beeps, and the very real concerns of the Broadway merchants about losing customers?

The season for plein-air dining is upon us. Bellevue Avenue, Thames Street, the wharves, and Broadway in particular, are ready and waiting.

Tables outside are nothing new; local restaurants have been serving customers on the sidewalk for many a summer. For patrons desiring an urban thrum as part of their dining experience, the proximity of passing cars are a small price to pay for the appealing ambience of the street scene.

It is expected that the ordinance requiring merchants to keep the sidewalks in front of their business “free of all trash, debris, litter and cigarette butts” will make it through the second reading on Wednesday, June 14.

This summer, in appearance and in mood, Broadway is a street transformed. What is new – striking, we think – is the quality and extent of the work. From the broader sidewalks, the bump-outs, the lighting, the plantings and the recently planted trees, dining al fresco on Broadway has gone from urban to urbane.

Two other curbside attractions also deserve recognition. The wood-frame “parklet" at the corner of Bellevue Avenue and Williams Street, a solar powered charging station, was financed a year ago by a $14,800 grant from the Rhode Island Foundation, drawn by its promise of “encouraging people to experience community in public spaces.” Thanks to a recent grant from the Aquidneck Island Land Trust, the parklet's raised garden beds will soon be planted with an assortment of edibles. Pedestrians will be able to take a seat, recharge and nibble.

And in the same spirit, around the corner from Broadway the community garden that made its debut last spring at the Great Friends Meeting House is a model of community engagement. A year ago on this page, we observed that “the garden and the surrounding scene adds an air of civility to this busy city intersection.” All it took was one year for the spot to become a gathering and gardening spot that now defines the neighborhood.

From watering holes to watering cans, Newport’s summer sidewalks reflect the diversity of its community. Get out there and find your spot!

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