Editorial: A table for all

Posted 6/16/22

The guiding principle should be to keep innovating with public spaces. That philosophy has served Bristol very well for many generations, and it should continue to for many more.

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Register to post events

If you'd like to post an event to our calendar, you can create a free account by clicking here.

Note that free accounts do not have access to our subscriber-only content.

Day pass subscribers

Are you a day pass subscriber who needs to log in? Click here to continue.

Editorial: A table for all


Bristol has always been a leader in planning and utilization of public space. Consider this town’s rich array of public parks, green spaces, open water views and accessible harbor, and contrast it with neighbors.

Warren’s Water Street is a booming restaurant destination … with little access to or even visibility of the water. Contrast that to Thames Street, enhanced by a public boardwalk and many public access points.

Barrington is a booming family community … with woeful athletic facilities. Contrast its Chianese Park, built atop a former landfill, with Bristol’s incredible Town Beach sports complex.

Bristol leaders, planners and community shapers made many smart decisions over many decades to build a community where public facilities enhance deeply the quality of life for its residents.

While the council has opted for a temporary approach to allow outdoor dining on State Street and revisit the issue prior to next year, it now has a chance to be a leader once more. On the surface, the proposal to seasonally trade parking spaces on State Street for outdoor dining spaces seems too limited to serve the greater good. Critics can argue it really benefits only the four restaurants able to consume public space for their private gains. True, it does.

Yet the addition of outdoor dining in a congested downtown environment has benefits beyond the 16 parking spaces that would be sacrificed for half the year. Establishing downtown Bristol as a true gem for outdoor dining — which is the hottest trend in the restaurant industry right now — brings buzz, visibility and economic horsepower to a commercial district that needs it. Too many storefronts have sat vacant for too long, and the root cause is not a lack of motor vehicle parking spaces; it’s a lack of people walking through those doors. (And regarding those 16 lost parking spaces, two public parking lots some 50 feet away are often half-filled.)

Permanent outdoor dining on State Street is not the single stimulant to help the downtown district, but it can be the latest. Bristol can complete and promote a public boardwalk along the full length of its harbor; continue long-range visioning for Thames as a “shared street,” with safe access for both bikers and pedestrians; improve public parking signage; install more inviting infrastructure for bikers; continue building the calendar of outdoor festivals and markets; and dream of a community boating center somewhere between Independence Park and the bike path.

After they codify the outdoor dining spaces along State Street, town leaders should consider more permanent options for competing restaurants. If table space and public safety can be reasonably balanced, then let more businesses enjoy the benefits of outdoor dining.

The guiding principle should be to keep innovating with public spaces. That philosophy has served Bristol very well for many generations, and it should continue to for many more.

2024 by East Bay Media Group

Barrington · Bristol · East Providence · Little Compton · Portsmouth · Tiverton · Warren · Westport
Meet our staff
Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.