Sunday, April 25, 2010

Coffee Shop Urban Geography

This Boston Globe article about the trade-offs among parking, traffic, and outdoor seating caught my eye for several reasons. First, it brings together two of my interests as a geographer: urban development and coffee. Second, the focus of the article is Caffe Graffiti in Boston's North End. One of my students recently reviewed the cafe for my Secret Life of Coffee shop; her review is one of the first on my new Yelp channel for the class. We am hoping to use some of this cafe's innovations -- such as the erasable-brick fundraising wall -- in our own Ben Linder Cafe at Bridgewater.

The controversy at the center of this article is whether to allow significant expansion of the outdoor dining area at the cafe, at the expense of overnight residential parking and the movement of traffic. The fact that something as small as a patio could become such an important focal point for competing spatial interests is a sign of just how fine-grained and intricate the urban landscape of the North End has become. I have enjoyed a few visits to the neighborhood -- particularly since I became interested in coffee. I look forward to spending some time there this summer, having recently read Dark Tide with Pam. (See her review as part of the Massachusetts entry in her Celebrating the States blog.) It is a tragic story that also conveys the rich history and social cohesion of the North End.

Another reason that I need to visit this summer is that I think the situation is in flux, and the details are not yet reflected on Google Maps, which appears to show a previous occupant in the location of Caffe Graffiti, with plenty of outdoor seating already in place. So I need to do a little of what we geographers call "ground truthing." Of course, I'll have a cappuccino with that!

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