The City of Chicago will distribute $2.3 million in grants to 15 community organizations to promote outdoor dining and the creation of community-focused space as part of its Chicago Alfresco program.

The grant program, which Guinness and Smirnoff parent company Diageo has backed, awarded up to $250,000 each to neighborhood groups for projects including the creation of plaza spaces and the installation of picnic tables and art displays to make open streets and outdoor dining spaces more appealing. The grant program builds on an outdoor dining program the city operated last year and continues to accept applications.

Other cities also plan to continue allowing restaurants to take up outdoor space. Cities including Boston and New York have extended their outdoor dining programs and leaders in San Francisco, Dallas, Cincinnati and Los Angeles are all seeking to make them permanent.

One of the most immediate and visible changes cities made during the COVID-19 pandemic was to open up sidewalk and parking space to restaurants and other businesses, allowing them to comply with social distancing rules and put customers in safer outdoor environments. The street closures proved popular with restaurant owners and customers and were credited with keeping some restaurants afloat.

Now, as cities prepare for a return to normal as vaccinations increase and case numbers decline, restaurant owners are pushing for the changes to be made permanent.

Read the full article about community-focused spaces by Jason Plautz at Smart Cities Dive.