Click here to check out Part 2 of our Zoning in a Post-COVID World series.

We imagine at this point that everyone across the world has been affected somehow by this global COVID-19 pandemic (how seriously people take it or don’t take it is clearly up for debate). No matter what, this event will affect our lives for some time to come. Cities have had to shift their focus very quickly in order to effectively adapt to this new world around us – most notably, from an urban planning perspective, this shift away from automobiles (as usage dropped significantly) to people and how people use and will continue to use the public realm – our streets, sidewalks and open spaces.

However, there’s something that hasn’t been talked about much – what can cities do through zoning (the land use controls on private property) to help businesses and the economy get back up and running as quickly and safely as possible? The threat here is real. Many local businesses that we once loved and enjoyed pre-COVID may not make it through this struggle unless local governments do their part to lift some of the stifling zoning restrictions that are often in place, and that quite frankly might not make sense any more moving forward.

Here are a few of our ideas about how cities can help:

1. Allow temporary use of parking lots for outdoor dining/drinking.

Allow restaurants, brewpubs and similar businesses to temporarily use areas designated for required parking to be used for socially distant outdoor dining and seating areas. Come on city leaders, this seems like a simple one and should just happen overnight!

Seating and pop-up beer tent temporarily replaces parking spaces.

2. Allow pop-up retail/outdoor display.

Allow for retail businesses to temporarily set up pop-up tents and other types of outdoor display activity both in front buildings and in parking lots. Many communities restrict the display and retail sales activity in front of buildings and parking lots through a temporary use permit – let’s just skip the permit requirement for now!

Parking lot temporarily used for outdoor sales and curbside pick-ups.

3. Relax temporary sign restrictions.

Many businesses have found the need to advertise in new and innovative ways – whether it’s a large new banner placed on the front of the building to let people know you are open, or a chair placed in the parking lot with instructions to text upon arrival. Cities should make it clear these types of temporary signs are not illegal right now, and in fact, are encouraged.

Temporary banner letting customers know that they can text in their order.

4. Eliminate parking requirements – require spaces for bikes instead.

If you want local business to bounce back quickly, let’s get cities out of the parking regulation business. There are a million reasons why parking should no longer be required (thank you, Donald Shoup), but with the shift to close some streets to cars, expanding sidewalks and bike lanes for pedestrians and cyclists, we should let businesses take this opportunity to decide for themselves how to best utilize the space around them (within reason of course). Oh and while you’re at it, make sure all these people now cycling to places have somewhere to safely lock their bike when they get there.

Permanent bike corrals replace parking spaces. Photo credit:

We will follow up in the next few days with some more ideas in another post. If you’ve got ideas too, please share them with us in the comments below or by emailing us. Let’s get our cities healthy again!


  • Rob Blanton says:

    This is some good ideas.

  • Edward J. Knittel says:

    Some of these suggestions will be limited to only certain state, given weather conditions in the fall/winter. But, its a start.

  • Tom Wilson says:

    I saw a 100% packed Sonic drive-in with a dead Burger King across the street. So, you’re #1 is definitely needed.

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