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City Beautiful 21 » Carrboro, Culture, Data, Food, Urban Indicators » Informal Urbanism Indicator #5: Outdoor Dining

Informal Urbanism Indicator #5: Outdoor Dining

One of the key features that differentiates an urban place from more suburban places is the number of people on the streets. While many of the people out and about are walking from one place to another, many of them are quite stationary, often at a table enjoying food and drink. In his masterpiece on cities and towns, A Pattern Language, Christopher Alexander states:

“We know that people enjoy mixing in public, in parks, squares, along promenades and avenues, in street cafes. The preconditions seem to be: the setting gives you the right to be there, by custom; there are a few things to do that are part of the scene, almost ritual: reading the newspaper, strolling, nursing a beer, playing catch; and people feel safe enough to relax, nod at each other, perhaps even meet.”

Outdoor Dining - Milltown

Outdoor Dining – Milltown

Alexander is observing what we all know- people like to be around other people, and cafe culture is perhaps human civilization’s best invention for providing people-watching opportunities.  But although there are plenty of people-watching opportunities inside any eating or drinking establishment, the deliberate move to provide outdoor seating, which always introduces extra labor hassles to the establishment, is a recognition that there are people-watching opportunities outside along the street as well as in the cafes, bars, and restaurants themselves.

That being the case, if we are searching for indicators of where people walk, outdoor dining/cafe seating should be a good guide.  And boy, does Carrboro have a lot of outdoor dining.  The least expected place? Burger King!  Yes, it’s a very suburban setup at Willow Creek shopping center, and your view is mostly people parking nearby, but even BK put out a few tables and a shrubbery. Good for them.

Outdoor Dining- Burger King

Outdoor Dining- Burger King


Here are some tables along West Main Street at Tres Amigos.

Outdoor Dining - Tres Amigos

Outdoor Dining – Tres Amigos

Including these three locations, even if we ignore food trucks that might have their own seating (i.e. Fitch Lumber taco truck), I found a total of 17 Outdoor Dining locations in Carrboro. Here they are on a map, each identified with a burger and beverage icon:

View Outdoor Dining in a larger map

While I was not surprised, it is worth noting that there is no Outdoor Dining at Carrboro Plaza.  Most of the rest of the town that has any commercial development has found some space for Outdoor Dining. If you’ve been following the blog this week, you’re probably starting to see a pattern in the maps, which I will cover in an upcoming post.


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Filed under: Carrboro, Culture, Data, Food, Urban Indicators

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