In an effort to impose still more outdoor dining regulations on Raleigh’s restaurant and bar owners, Mayor Nancy McFarlane, along with city council member Russ Stephenson, took a café tour in late February on the streets of Paris to note the sidewalk seating standards of Europe’s most vibrant city.
The two city officials were stunned by what they observed from the dining culture of Paris.
“As much as we enjoyed the hospitality of our Parisian restaurant owners, we found the city’s lack of concern regarding outdoor dining regulations appalling,” McFarlane said in a press release at the end of the tour. “Cafés have entirely too much freedom to choose their own dining furniture, and the number of people allowed to sit on sidewalk patios is nothing short of shocking.”
The trip, intended to educate city officials on maintaining a vibrant environment for residents and business owners, stemmed from an ongoing debate over sidewalk dining regulations in downtown Raleigh.
Residents’ complaints about overcrowding and excessive noise began last May, spurring the council to tighten rules for dining on public sidewalks. That action caused uproar among bar and restaurant owners, and resulted in months of arguments between officials, residents, and businesses.
The rules are undergoing further revision, a move that required “thorough consideration of best practices from cities around the world,” McFarlane said.
Along with McFarlane’s complaints, Stephenson expressed alarm at the noise levels around areas such as the Marche Saint-Germain and Rues St.-Andre de Arts, both of which have residential spaces above the street level.
“The amount of revelry I see along these streets is unacceptable,” Stephenson said. “This poses a serious threat to equality of happiness among all Parisians — dare I say, all citizens of the world. What does this kind of display do to passersby who are unable to join in on the fun?”
Concerned for the future of unregulated patio dining and sidewalk use around the world, in late February the officials announced a proposal to petition the United Nations General Assembly to create a U.N. Commission for the Regulation of Global Vibrancy. The proposal will be considered at the General Assembly’s April 21 meeting as part of its debate on sustainable development goals.
“We are looking for supportive multistakeholder engagement in this issue,” U.N. President H.E. Mogens Likketoft told Carolina Journal. “We weren’t aware that this was an item requiring our interference, but we are happy to step in and tell countries what they can and cannot do with their city sidewalks.”
Paris restaurant owner Jacques St.-Bernard, who depends on outdoor seating to support his café, says the notion of too much vibrancy on the sidewalk is incomprehensible to French citizens.
“I will never understand this American way of thinking,” St.-Bernard said. “It is Americans who love to come to Paris and get fat on our food and drink. It is Americans who love to ride in cabs rather than walk. Why wouldn’t they love it, then, that we have turned our sidewalks into dining space where they can continue fattening themselves? Where is the fun for them in taking that away?”
The goal of the U.N. commission is not to diminish fun, but rather to reduce the threat that too much vibrancy poses to the comfort and happiness of all, said McFarlane in a response to St.-Bernard and other complainants.
“It just isn’t right for one city to be more vibrant than another,” McFarlane said. “That blatant skewing of the scale creates a competitive disadvantage for cities that cannot offer the level of happiness that you can find in Paris, Berlin, or New York. That inequality among world-class cities should not be allowed.”
Parting Shot is a parody loosely based on events in the news. This parody appeared in the March 2016 print edition of CJ.