food / travel

Dining In The Street: COVID-19 Could Replace Cars With Tables

The streets of Vilnius on May 10
The streets of Vilnius on May 10
Kat Bohmbach

As the new pandemic reality requires radical rethinking about how we live our lives, one hint of where we may be going could appear this summer in a neighborhood near you. The re-opening of bars and restaurants coinciding with warm weather is pushing city officials to reallocate the space that diners and motorists can occupy. It remains to be seen if this is the beginning of deeper post-COVID-19 shift in urban planning in favor of pedestrians over cars and drivers. In the meantime, here are three examples of a new look for the summer:

  • In France, where outdoor cafés and restaurants are typically crowded with tourists and locals alike sharing apéros and conversation, we may begin to see a gradual reopening this month of les terrasses, yet no formal plans have yet been made. But according tot he Le Parisien daily, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo will be making some major changes to the city's layout, for locals and commuters alike, that could include the closure of at least 30 roads from cars and traffic, including Rue de Rivoli near the Louvre, and a few other tourist-heavy areas, to open up more through-ways for pedestrians and cyclists. As far as for restaurants, cafés and bars? The mayor is also making space for them in some major ways, such as letting them spill out into the street and parking spaces so that they can still serve while respecting sanitary conditions. According to Hidalgo, "Entire streets could be reserved for them free of charge."

Paris' Rue de Rivoli on May 9 — Photo: Xinhua/ZUMA

  • In Lithuania, public spaces are turning into open-air markets and restaurants in an attempt to help small and local businesses stay-afloat during the pandemic. In the capital city of Vilnius, in the winding streets of the historical center, there are currently 18 businesses spilling out onto sidewalks and streets in an effort to respect the designated 2-meter space between tables. Le Monde reports that there are more than 160 restaurants already looking for a space of their own to open shop back up after the most restrictive lockdown measures are lifted on May 11th. According to Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Simasius, "this measure will help small establishments survive and keep jobs, while the tourist season, which is increasingly important for the city's revenue, is slow to start." To give an additional boost to the restaurant and hotel sectors, new events have been created to get more people back to work, like open-air concerts and even converting the tarmac of the Vilnius airport into a massive drive-in movie theater.

  • In the United States, restaurants and stores in Tampa, Florida, are now allowed to take up more space and spread out to meet social distancing requirements and safety measures. As a part of the city's new economic package elegantly referred to as the "Lift Up Local Economic Recovery Plan," restaurants and stores can now expand onto sidewalks, streets, and even into parking lots and spaces. "Our small businesses are the backbone of our economy," Mayor Jane Castor told the Tampa Bay Times. "We need their help to safely and successfully re-open our city and get back to all the things we love — one step at a time." These "cafe and retail zones' will be opening up across the city and will face strict regulations to prevent overcrowding, such as all restaurants are to be reservation-only, police will be on duty, and an old pre-coronavirus concept takes on new meaning: No loitering.

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A Dove From Hiroshima: Is Fumio Kishida Tough Enough To Lead Japan?

Japan's new prime minister is facing the twin challenges of COVID-19 and regional tensions, and some wonder whether he can even last as long as his predecessor, who was forced out after barely one year.

Japan's new PM Fumio Kishida in Tokyo on Sept. 29

Daisuke Kondo


TOKYO — When Fumio Kishida, Japan's new prime minister. introduced himself earlier this month, he announced that the three major projects of his premiership will be the control of the ongoing pandemic; a new type of capitalism; and national security.

Kishida also pledged to deal with China "as its neighbor, biggest trade partner and an important nation which Japan should continue to dialogue with."

Nothing too surprising. Still, it was a rapid turn of events that brought him to the top job, taking over for highly unpopular predecessor, Yoshihide Suga, who had suddenly announced his resignation from office.

After a fierce race, Kishida defeated Taro Kono to become the president of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), and pave the way for the prime minister's job.

Born into politics

A key reason for Kishida's victory is the improving health situation, following Japan's fifth wave of the COVID pandemic that coincided with this summer's Olympic Games in Tokyo.

The best way to describe Kishida is to compare him to a sponge: not the most interesting item in a kitchen, yet it can absorb problems and clean up muck. His slogan ("Leaders exist to make other people shine") reflects well his political philosophy.

He is an excellent actor.

Kishida was born into a political family: His grandfather and father were both parliament members. Between the ages of six to nine, he studied in New York because of his father's work at the time. He attended the most prestigious private secondary school — the Kaisei Academy, of which about half of its graduates go to the University of Tokyo.

However, after failing three times the entrance exam to , Kishida finally settled for Waseda University. Coming from a family where virtually all the men went to UTokyo, this was Kishida's first great failure in life.

An invitation for Obama

After he graduated from college, Kishida worked for five years in a bank before serving as secretary for his father, Fumitake Kishida. In 1992, his father suddenly died at the age of 65. The following year, Kishida inherited his father's legacy to be elected as a member of the House of Representatives for the Hiroshima constituency. Since then, he has been elected successfully nine straight times, and served as Shinzo Abe's foreign minister for four years, beginning in December 2012. A former subordinate of his from that time commented on Kishida:

"If we are to sum him up in one sentence, he is an excellent actor. Whenever he was meeting his peers from other countries, we would remind him what should be emphasized, or when a firm, unyielding 'No' was necessary, and so on ... At the meetings, he would then put on his best show, just like an actor."

According to some insiders, during this period as foreign minister, his toughest stance was on nuclear weapons. This is due to the fact that his family hails from Hiroshima.

In 2016, following his suggestion, the G7 Ise-Shima Summit was held in Hiroshima, which meant that President Barack Obama visited the city — the first visit by a U.S. president to Hiroshima, where 118,661 lives were annihilated by the U.S. atomic bomb.

Photo of Shinzo Abe, Barack Obama and Fumio Kishida with their backs to the camera, in Hiroshima in 2016

Shinzo Abe, Barack Obama and Fumio Kishida in Hiroshima in 2016

Japanese cynics

In September, 2020 when Shinzo Abe stepped down as prime minister, Kishida put out his candidacy for the first time for LDP's presidency. He didn't even get close. This was his second great failure.

But reading his biography, Kishida Vision, I must say that besides the two aforementioned hiccups, Kishida's life has been smooth sailing over the past 64 years

When one has had a happy and easy life, one tends to think that human nature is fundamentally good. Yet, the world doesn't work like that. And Japanese tend to believe that "human nature is vice," and have always felt a bit uneasy with the dovish Kishida diplomacy when he was foreign minister.

Leftist traditions from Hiroshima

Hiroshima has always been a city with a leftist political tradition. Kishida's character, coupled with the fact that he belongs to the moderate Kochikai faction within the LDP, inevitably means that he won't be a right-wing prime minister.

How long will a Fumio Kishida government last?

Kishida would never have the courage to be engaged in any military action alongside Japan's ally, the United States, nor will he set off to rewrite the country's constitution.

So after barely a year of Yoshihide Suga in office, how long will a Fumio Kishida government last? If Japan can maintain its relatively stable health situation for some time, it could be a while. But if COVID comes roaring back, and the winter brings a sixth wave of the pandemic as virtually all Japanese experts in infectious diseases have predicted, then Kishida may just end up like Suga. No sponge can clean up that mess.

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