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New York City severely curtailed indoor dining for the better part of the last year in its response to the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak. The City allowed restaurants to, among other things, erect new outdoor seating structures on streets and sidewalks as a compromise. The outdoor seating varies in quality and is seldom pedestrian-friendly. One restaurant in Cobble Hill took up virtually the entire sidewalk with an enclosed structure that looks a bit like a circus tent. A Boerum Hill restaurant set up transparent chicken coop-like bubbles for individual tables. Many restaurants set up elaborate sheds in the street. Others haphazardly scattered tables around the sidewalk, leaving a maze for pedestrians to negotiate. But the purpose of this post is not to rate outdoor restaurant seating – but to note a standing water problem at many of the set-ups.

Standing Water Around the Sheds

Some restaurants clearly take pride in their outdoor seating set-ups and keep them well-maintained and relatively clean. Others make less effort. I have noticed a disturbing trend with some of the restaurants that set up wooden shed-like structures in the street and subsequently put little effort into maintaining them.

Standing water.

Please look at the following picture of standing water collecting next to and under a street-based outdoor dining set-up in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.

An outdoor dining set-up in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, with a bit of a standing water problem - photographed on May 18, 2021.
I took this unedited photo of standing water next to and under an outdoor dining set up in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, on May 18, 2021. The bike, chained right in the middle of the set-up, is not nearly as aesthetic as the blue bike I photographed in the snow a couple of months ago.

I took this unedited photo on May 18, 2021. However, I should note that this is not the first time I have seen standing water collecting at this location. There is dirty standing water around and under the outdoor dining set-up nearly every time I walk past it. This outdoor dining setup is far from the only one with a persistent standing water problem.

As someone who is loved by mosquitoes, I have a special interest in New York City’s growing standing water crisis. There are enough places for the little bloodsuckers to breed without restaurants providing new ones. Are we trying to trade our current problem for a West Nile Virus resurgence? What is going on here?

I would think that outdoor diners would have some concerns about enjoying food and drinks on a boat floating on a mosquito-ridden pathogen pool. The pigeons know better than to wade in these puddles.

As the standing water problem grows, I have begun to question whether everyone is on the same page about leaving dirty pools of standing water outside. From the time I was young, I understood that standing water is a problem. Do people not understand this these days? Are the restaurant owners entirely unaware? Do diners consider this? Am I the only one?

Summer Relief From Standing Water?

Summer may ameliorate the outdoor-dining standing water problem to some extent. Let us hope it does, for the mosquitoes hope that it does not.

The combination of New York City relaxing its indoor dining restrictions and summer heat driving more people to take advantage of indoor dining may curtail some of the more egregiously poorly maintained outdoor dining structures. Do people want to eat in a dirty wooden structure in 90 degrees when they can go inside? I hope not.

This does not mean, however, that the worst offender structures will be dismantled. So long as they stand and are not properly maintained, the standing water problem may persist. Direct sunlight and high temperatures may take care of some of the more shallow puddles. However, I will note that when I took the standing water picture that I used for this article, it had not rained in the area in a while. The deeper puddles may survive high temperatures, especially when they find refuge under the structure itself.

Furthermore, even careless cleaning can be dangerous. The man with the hose fears no puddle.

We may continue to be left at the mercy of restaurant owners. Let us hope that they come to realize that standing water is bad. It is not a thing that should be allowed, especially around food. There was never an excuse for maintaining dirty outdoor dining set-ups. There is certainly none now that indoor dining restrictions have been eased.