In collaboration with the Van Alen Institute, Neighborhoods Now connects four communities hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic with over twenty leading design firms and interdisciplinary experts to develop safe and effective reopening strategies this summer.
In New York City and across the country, the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected communities of color. This crisis threatens to shutter small businesses and expand the racial wealth gap in neighborhoods that already lack access to resources and capital as a result of long-term structural inequity and racism. In response, the Urban Design Forum and Van Alen Institute launched Neighborhoods Now to channel pro-bono resources from New York-based design firms into community-driven recovery strategies.
In May 2020, the Urban Design Forum and Van Alen Institute offered to advise members of the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, a coalition of community organizations across New York City, on their reopening strategies. Five organizations joined the initiative: 82nd Street Partnership in Jackson Heights, Queens; Bed-Stuy Gateway BID and Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn; Community League of the Heights in Washington Heights, Manhattan; and the Northwest Bronx Community & Clergy Coalition in Kingsbridge, Bronx.
In a six-week sprint over the summer, these organizations collaborated with coalitions of architects, engineers, lawyers, and planners from Van Alen and Urban Design Forum’s collective network. The outcomes are a set of design recommendations and prototypes addressing immediate needs for COVID-19 awareness campaigns, open air dining, and outdoor education and wellness activities.
The working groups have also created supplementary materials, including multilingual signage, informational pamphlets, and legal templates, now available for free download by the public. Although the initial six-week sprint has concluded, they’re continuing to collaborate to bring several ideas from their proposals to fruition. In some neighborhoods, prototypes have already been implemented, and Van Alen and Urban Design Forum are actively fundraising to support additional implementation into the fall. To help these efforts, learn about sponsorship opportunities here.
Neighborhoods’ needs also went beyond design and physical interventions. To date, the working groups have organized financial workshops for small businesses and collaborated with senior staff at City agencies to help neighborhoods access programs like Open Streets and Open Restaurants.
Free Downloads ↓
Social Distancing Signage
These posters were designed by Partner & Partners in collaboration with the Bed-Stuy Gateway BID and Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation (Restoration), reflecting the diversity and languages of the neighborhood.
These posters were designed by Pentagram in collaboration with the 82nd Street BID in Jackson Heights. As dozens of languages are spoken in Jackson Heights — the most diverse neighborhood in the world — Pentagram also created write-in signs that can be filled in using any language with the completed signs as a guide for translation.
These posters were designed by Two Twelve in collaboration with the Northwest Bronx Community & Clergy Coalition (NWBCCC) in the Bronx neighborhood of Kingsbridge. With write-in details, they are easily customizable and adaptable to different businesses.
Created by the Restoration working group, these pamphlets (with poster versions) aim to share information about reopening guidelines in a concise and user-friendly style. They outline recommendations for tenants, small businesses, and neighborhoods.
- COVID-19 Reopening Guide: Office Workers and Clients (PDF)
- COVID-19 Reopening Guide: Small Business Owners (PDF)
- COVID-19 Reopening Guide: Be a Good Neighbor (PDF)
Created by law firm Fried Frank, this legal template can be used by businesses who want to operate a pop-up location on a vacant property owned by someone else.
Working Groups ↓
Bed-Stuy Gateway BID
Design Advocates, Grimshaw, Jaklitsch/Gardner, Moody Nolan, and W Architecture collaborated with the Bed Stuy Gateway BID. The working group is currently implementing hand sanitizer stations in public spaces and recently organized a mediation between landlords and small businesses owners to aid with lease negotiations.
Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation
AE Superlab, Farzana Gandhi Design Studio, James Corner Field Operations, JB&B, and KPF collaborated with Restoration to imagine Fulton Street as a major public space linking slow streets, existing plazas, and repurposed vacant lots and storefronts. They are now sourcing materials for outdoor pop-up seating and murals to celebrate the neighborhood’s strengths.
Jackson Heights, Queens
82nd Street BID
ARO, Design Advocates, LTL, MOS, nARCHITECTS, LTL, and SO-IL collaborated with the 82nd Street Partnership. Together, they helped several restaurants participate in the city’s Open Restaurant program, and are looking toward the future with a pandemic-era reinvention of the beloved annual Viva La Comida festival.
COOKFOX, Design Advocates, MNLA, Perkins & Will, Scalar Architecture, and Studio Libeskind collaborated with NWBCCC. Together, they proposed an action plan that includes collaboration with local artists and youth groups and outdoor activations such as pop-up markets. The working group organized a seminar for small businesses on how to apply for relief loans, and are now also sourcing materials for Word Up Community Bookshop’s programming.
Washington Heights, Manhattan
Community League of the Heights
Arup, Design Advocates, Gensler, Stantec, and Woods Bagot collaborated with CLOTH. Together, they proposed all-weather outdoor dining design, flexible outdoor retail displays, and a “kits of parts” for outdoor education. The working group recently installed one of their outdoor dining prototypes, and are working on more outdoor furniture, barriers, and planters.
University Neighborhood Housing Program (UNHP) and Cooper Square Committee (CSC) worked with firms on site-specific projects to reconfigure their office spaces for a safe reopening for staff and visitors.
Dattner Architects and MBB collaborated with University Neighborhood Housing Program. Together, they worked to create plans to safely update and reopen UNHP’s main office by limiting workstations, creating a COVID check-in station, and using plexiglass partitions.
Thornton Tomasetti and Curtis + Ginsberg Architects collaborated with Cooper Square Committee. Together, they worked to improve ventilation in the CSC office space, to recalibrate their consultation room to accommodate social distancing, and to create physical barriers between visitors and staff.
Public Programs ↓
Neighborhoods Now Capstone Event
October 6 & 7, 11am-1pm
Join us for the culminating event for our Neighborhoods Now Initiative.
Neighborhoods Now Kickoff
June 26, 9:00-11:00am
This kick-off session will bring the Neighborhoods Now working groups together with the general public to learn about the practical considerations of reopening. A range of experts will present perspectives from the fields of public health, economic development, material science, and other professions to inform the working groups’ process.
View a recording of the event.
To learn more about contributing towards Neighborhoods Now, including helping our community partners realize their recovery strategies, please contact Daniel McPhee, Executive Director at email@example.com
Want to share your skills, expertise, or ideas? Fill out this form.
About Van Alen Institute ↓
Van Alen Institute envisions a world where cities, landscapes and regions support every human being’s full potential. To achieve this, we help communities build social and physical resilience through inclusive design. Building on 125 years of experience, we collaborate with communities, scholars, policymakers, and professionals on local and global initiatives that rigorously investigate the most pressing social, cultural, and ecological challenges of tomorrow. With a core belief in an interdisciplinary approach to design, the Van Alen team has backgrounds in urban planning, public health, civic advocacy, community engagement, and arts and culture.