By Barry Benepe
How many remember the late Whitney North “Mike” Seymour, Jr. who lived with his wife Catryna in a skylit loft on West 11th Street? As president of the newly created Park Association of New York City, he instigated the zoning amendment permitting outdoor dining on public sidewalks. “Why should Parisians have all the fun?” he asked.
“After a trip to Paris and seeing how sidewalk cafes added such life to that city,” he recounts, “Catryna and I returned to New York and realized there were virtually no sidewalk cafes here. So we drove up and down the streets of the Village, writing down the addresses of bars and restaurants that were likely sites for sidewalk cafes. Then we mailed memos to the owners suggesting they put out cafes and that it would only cost$25 for the license. Next spring there were dozens of sidewalk cafes around the village! This is an example of how individuals can make a difference.” (West Village Originals, An Oral History of New York City’s Most Unique Neighborhood. By Michael D. Minichiello)
The recent expansion of cafes to embrace and replace curbside parking lanes is an extension of the same process to enliven our street life. Recently, Danny Romero brightened the window of Bonsignour by showing the FIFA World Cup to a cheering group of neighbors, who were allowed to siton benches he put outside on the sidewalk for their comfort.