If 2020 was the year of the lockdown, 2021 is the year of the open up. Following months of being cooped up at home, educated remotely, barred from restaurants, performance venues and meeting spaces, and sensibly shielded behind masks – just over half of us, anyway, according to a poll by the USC’s Dornsife Center for Economic Aid and Social Research – people are yearning for uncrowded spaces and the healing balm of nature.
As Derek Gagne, Principal of the planning, landscape architecture and urban design firm EDSA, observed to us: “If the coronavirus pandemic revealed anything, it’s that city dwellers need fresh air, sunshine and nature like everybody else.”
Many cities that reimagined spaces by restricting traffic and opening streets for pedestrians early in the pandemic are keeping them that way. A recent piece in Bloomberg pondering “Can ‘Open Streets’ Outlast the Pandemic?” noted that New York City designated 67 miles of roadways for reduced traffic last spring when it was the epicenter of the pandemic. The changes were recently made permanent with a bill signing by Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Yet while NYC acted in New York Minute, slow-street programs moved slower elsewhere. Denver and Chicago, for instance, are conducting surveys on usage, and a pilot program in Houston remained just that. “The fate of Open Streets could hang on their effectiveness,” the Bloomberg piece advised, “What’s working, and what’s not?”
Meanwhile, hotels have been dreaming up new twists get guests outdoors. EDSA, which has long designed urban projects to bring natural aspects of landscape architecture into human-made environments, has lately noticed hospitality clients rethinking onsite landscaping to expand open-air function spaces and satisfy people’s new predilection for being outside. The firm expects the trend to continue.
In Los Angeles, Hotel Bel-Air of Dorchester Collection is promoting Bel-Air Under the Stars, a new outdoor dining experience from Wolfgang Puck with beautiful blankets provided for guests to cozy up next to their own fire pit, while sister property The Beverly Hills Hotel has recreated its iconic Polo Lounge outside, with impressive results. In Mayfair, London, 45 Park Lane has a beautiful new terrace, while The Dorchester has unveiled the first rooftop restaurant and bar concept in its 90-year history, The Dorchester Rooftop, showcasing a series of culinary pop-ups, with an ever-changing menu and live music for guests to enjoy before views of Hyde Park across Park Lane.
“Every country is opening on a different timeframe, so we strategically tapped into our brains to find solutions,” recalled Annalisa Maestri, Global Communications Manager of Dorchester Collection, during an “Eyes on Europe” Clubhouse conversation hosted by Hawkins International on June 10. “Hotels need to focus on the local market when creating new offerings. ‘Creativity’ and ‘flexibility’ have been the two key words.”
Rest assured, rooftops, like other outdoor spaces, have had moments before. Indeed, a 2017 Hotel Management article by an industry insider touting rooftop bars as an “elevated draw” for an “era of experience” noted how their views and vibes can inspire guests to linger and lead to backups on seating and service. That’s something to keep in mind as post-pandemic travelers thirst to experience hospitality in reimagined spaces.