As we enter the post-COVID era, many cities wonder if their expensive office towers will be full again. Perhaps they are asking the wrong question, as the humble curb becomes the hub of commerce around the world.
Curbivore, a recent conference in Los Angeles discussed the incredible transformation of the sidewalk in cities around the world. The conference was co-founded by ridesharing and delivery expert Harry Campbell, aka The Rideshare Guide.
Curbivore attendees included Eric Garcetti, Mayor of Los Angeles, leading companies like Uber, Uber Eats and Alto, startups like instant delivery app JOKR, which recently raised $260 million, academic experts and business leaders, and a large group of delivery robots.
The premise of Curbivore is that in cities around the world, a battle is being waged for the use of the curb lane. Will it just be a metered parking lot for cars, or will it remain as it’s been redesigned during COVID, as a place to eat out, eat, shop for groceries and pick up produce “vice” like alcohol, cannabis and nicotine?
Curbivore has defined itself as “not just the act of eating or drinking in the street or on the sidewalk, but a reflection on the fact that space at the curb is limited, and that cities and businesses must working together to fairly share this precious real estate”.
The stakes, for cities like Los Angeles and many other destinations, are real.
Los Angeles Mayor Garretti (awaiting confirmation as Ambassador to India) greeted attendees after what he called “the worst two years of our lives,” the COVID pandemic. Some 120,000 restaurants closed in the United States in 2021, according to conference attendees. For others, using the sidewalk was key to surviving the pandemic. Garcetti noted that 80% of restaurants in Los Angeles said they closed if not for online delivery or the 1,700 outdoor dining permits that have been issued.
According to conference attendees, many puzzling but exciting developments are happening on the sidewalk in this new era of take-out orders and informal outdoor dining. These include pop-up kitchens and cloud kitchens, dark kitchens and the delivery of e-bikes, scooters and robots on the “last mile”. Then there are even delivery drones.
Robot delivery companies like Coco, often working with giants like Uber Eats, held a jamboree at the show. Different models from Coco, Serve Robotics, Kwikbot and many more showed off the grace of a skater walking around the field. Several robots are already in action in the streets of Hollywood and in Westwood around UCLA. While the robots have the issues you’d expect, such as Robocop’s ED-209 issue with stairs, advocates insist they can work in environments like a college campus or an airport and cut costs for delivery.
As the organizers put it, “Commerce has gone to the curb, and the new normal relies on delivery and pickup, and renovating curbs, sidewalks and disused real estate into civic spaces that function to serve everybody”.
This development is already making a difference for travelers in the United States and around the world. World-class destinations like Barcelona and Paris have long been known for their street-side restaurants. American cities like New York and Los Angeles, not so much. It was particularly striking in Los Angeles, where the Mediterranean climate allows for outdoor dining more than 300 days a year.
Driven by COVID (no indoor dining was allowed for many months in Los Angeles), and then by customer demand, restaurants and bars claimed this sidewalk, sidewalk or parking space for outdoor dining. Meanwhile, these businesses and others have survived on curbside-based delivery apps for food, alcohol, and other necessities.
Curbivore explored the changing sidewalk and the city around it. The show also showed how to reinvent the conference and trade show model while COVID-19 is still an issue.
The conference, which attracted more than 500 attendees and exhibitors, was held on the asphalt of a temporarily redeveloped parking lot. The panels of speakers were held in a large tent open on all sides. Exhibitors met prospects at open tables under awnings. Vehicles of all kinds, from food trucks and electric delivery bikes to drones and robots, were on display in the parking lot.
Organizers had asked, “Join us in sunny Los Angeles for an all-outdoor event on March 4and“It was chilly and rainy, but the outdoor format was still well executed and reassuring in a city just emerging from restrictive COVID regulations. The panelists addressed the crowd of 500 people in the tent, revival style.
As urban planning expert Professor Donald Shoup of UCLA said, “There’s an obscene amount of asphalt out there and the city is making it hard to use for anything else.” Meanwhile, “parking hasn’t changed since 1935, when the parking meter was invented.”
Yet entrepreneurs and visionaries have found ways to reuse that asphalt, from a nighttime market in Miami to the popular Cicalevia bike and walk event that takes over parts of Los Angeles.
Such innovation is the key to survival. Canter’s Deli on Fairfax’s has long drawn tourists from around the world for its thick corn beef and pastrami sandwiches, sassy waitresses and late-night hours. But Alex Canter, a 4th generation operator, says, “Not many restaurants are 90 years old. My family has always had this “adapt or die” mentality.
In 2013, Alex began experimenting at Canter’s by adding fourteen online ordering services. Online orders poured in and revenue increased by 30%, but running all the departments was unsustainable. Canter and his team created Ordermark to help Canter’s and other restaurants reach their full online ordering potential.
“We have gluten-free and avocado toast, which a Jewish caterer should never have,” Canter said. “We are even present on TikTok. It’s so important to go out and take the customer to wherever they are, not to sit and wait. »
Whether people dine in, dine in or get dropped off, the reimagining of the city’s curbs will only go from strength to strength after its origins in the two-year-long Covid-19 pandemic. New uses for the sidewalk are helping street life return to many destinations devastated by closures. As Culver City Councilman Alex Fisch told Curbivore, “Cities are magic.”