February 2021 update: Together with the Urban Design Forum, we’re delighted to welcome Americans for Equality (AAFE), Think!Chinatown, and Banana Kelly Community Improvement Association to Neighborhoods Now as new community partners, and expand our engagement with more member organizations of Fourth Arts Block (FABnyc).
Since May 2020, Neighborhoods Now has assisted more than 100 restaurants, small businesses, and cultural organizations in some of NYC’s hardest-hit neighborhoods across four boroughs. Learn more about the initiative’s outcomes and new working groups below!


About ↓

A collaboration between the Urban Design Forum and Van Alen Institute, Neighborhoods Now connects New York City neighborhoods hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic with design firms in our collective network. Launched in May 2020, Neighborhoods Now initially convened eight working groups led by community organizations in Bed-Stuy, Jackson Heights, Kingsbridge, the Lower East Side, and Washington Heights. What was intended to be a six-week sprint turned into long-term partnerships, and nearly all of these working groups continue to collaborate beyond their initial scope.

In February 2021, we expanded the initiative with new working groups based in Chinatown, the East Village and Lower East Side, and the South Bronx. With new coalitions of designers, engineers, and landscape architects, each working group aims to convert underutilized outdoor spaces as sites for community programming and cultural revitalization. The Forum and Van Alen have granted each new community partner $10,000 to implement these strategies, and will provide additional fundraising support as funds become available.


Outcomes ↓

The results of our work in 2020 are a set of design recommendations and prototypes addressing immediate needs for COVID-19 awareness campaigns, open air dining, and outdoor education and cultural programming. Several prototypes have now been implemented, and Van Alen Institute and the Urban Design Forum are actively fundraising to support additional implementation — with more than $100,000 regranted to community partners to date.

Neighborhoods’ needs also went beyond design and physical interventions. Working groups organized financial workshops for small businesses, drafted legal templates, and collaborated with senior staff at City agencies to help neighborhoods navigate programs like Open Streets and Open Restaurants.


Online Toolkit ↓

To see the designs, guidelines, and strategies from the initiative’s first cohort, visit neighborhoodsnow.nyc, a digital toolkit featuring 40+ designs, strategies, and resources created by our Neighborhoods Now teams. Browse by category or search by keyword for tools to aid community-based pandemic recovery. Detailed reports from each group, posted below, provide full context for each resource and greater insight into this collaborative, community-led process.


Social Distancing Signage ↓

In collaboration with our community partners, three graphic design firms — Partner & PartnersPentagram, and Two Twelve — created bold, colorful, and simple posters to convey COVID-19 safety protocols. Free to download, these posters encourage mask usage, social distancing, and hand-washing. There are 50+ posters available in Arabic, Bengali, English, and Spanish. Download as many as you like.


Policy Memo ↓

Based on the initiative’s work in 2020, Van Alen and the Forum developed 10 policy recommendations that have been shared with New York City’s Departments of City Planning, Cultural Affairs, Parks and Recreation, Small Business Services, and Transportation, and the New York City Economic Development Corporation. From minimizing the NYPD’s impact on permitting Open Streets and Open Streets: Restaurants to supporting small cultural organizations to safely program outdoor activities, these recommendations serve as guiding principles for the initiative’s upcoming work.


Working Groups ↓

Chinatown, Manhattan
Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE) and Think!Chinatown

Leroy Street Studios, di Domenico + Partners, Buro Happold, have partnered with AAFE and Think!Chinatown to develop a proposal to adapt Forsyth Street Plaza into an open-air market supporting local Chinatown businesses and cultural groups.

South Bronx

Banana Kelly Community Improvement Association

Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, The Greenest Fern, and BD Felíz will be joining with Banana Kelly to reactivate community gardens in Longwood, Hunts Point, Morrisania, and Mott Haven, allowing for safe outdoor activities and services that address neighborhood needs.

Lower East Side

Fourth Arts Block (FABnyc)

DLR Group, Francis Cauffman, and Henning Larsen worked with Fourth Arts Block. Together, they worked to create safe reopening strategies for  La MaMa, Frigid New York, IATI Theater, Teatro Circulo, The Clemente, First Street Garden, Nuyorican Poets Cafe, Swiss Institute, and Wild Project. In 2021, this team added four new member organizations: the Gene Frankel Theatre, KGB Bar / Red Room, Loisaida Inc, and Performance Space New York. Together with Buro Happold, SHoP, and Marvel, they will develop reopening strategies tailored to needs of smaller performing arts organizations, including ways to participate in New York City’s Open Culture program.
Learn More ►

Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn

Bed-Stuy Gateway BID

Design Advocates, Grimshaw, Jaklitsch/Gardner, Moody Nolan, and W Architecture collaborated with the Bed Stuy Gateway BID. The working group identified ways to activate Marcy Plaza, and in December of 2020, helped put on a COVID-safe Winter Wonderland holiday market for local businesses. They are now exploring design solutions for mitigating rats in the neighborhood and looking to organize a mediation between landlords and small businesses owners to aid with lease negotiations.
Learn More ►

Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn

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. The team is continuing to support interior reconfiguration strategies for the Restoration campus, and are exploring ways to aid broader neighborhood recovery efforts, including through small business training, wayfinding design, and public art.
Learn More ►

Jackson Heights, Queens

82nd Street BID

ARO, Design Advocates, LTL, MOS, nARCHITECTS, SO-IL, and VHB collaborated with the 82nd Street Partnership. Together, they helped over 20 restaurants participate in the city’s Open Restaurants program, and are continuing to support the neighborhood through exploration of a plaza for Elmhurst Hospital, and usage of the Street Seats program. They are also looking toward the future with a pandemic-era reinvention of the beloved annual Viva La Comida festival.
Learn More ►

Kingsbridge, Bronx

Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition 

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, installed a mural with local artists Tats Cru, and are now working to create an outdoor meeting space for NWBCCC.
Learn More ►

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, including for Word Up Community Bookshop’s programming. The working group is in the process of installing one of their outdoor dining prototypes, and connecting with additional businesses in the neighborhood who could use pop-up spaces through flyering.
Learn More ►


University Neighborhood Housing Program (UNHP) Cooper Square Committee (CSC) worked with firms on site-specific projects to reconfigure their office spaces for a safe reopening for staff and visitors.

University Neighborhood Housing Program

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.
Learn More ►

Cooper Square Committee

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.
Learn More ►


Urban Design Forum and Van Alen Institute have invited an interdisciplinary group of experts to join the Neighborhoods Now initiative in support of our working groups.


Public Programs ↓

Neighborhoods Now Summit: Strategies for Reopening and Recovery
October 6, Part 1

In this two-part public forum, our participating designers and our community partners reflected on how collaborative design can inform neighborhood recovery strategies.

Presenting Working Groups:
82nd Street Partnership, Northwest Bronx Community & Clergy Coalition (NWBCCC), and Fourth Arts Block

View a recording of the event.

Neighborhoods Now Summit: Strategies for Reopening and Recovery
October 7, Part 2

In this two-part public forum, our participating designers and our community partners reflected on how collaborative design can inform neighborhood recovery strategies.

Presenting Working Groups:
Bed-Stuy Restoration, Bed-Stuy BID, Community League of the Heights (CLOTH), University Neighborhood Housing Program, and Cooper Square Committee

View a recording of the event.

Neighborhoods Now Kickoff
June 26, 9:00-11:00am

This kick-off session brought the Neighborhoods Now working groups together with the general public to learn about the practical considerations of reopening. A range of experts presented 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.


Support ↓

To learn more about contributing towards Neighborhoods Now, including helping our community partners realize their recovery strategies, please contact Daniel McPhee, Executive Director at daniel@urbandesignforum.org

Want to share your skills, expertise, or ideas? Fill out this form.


Sponsors ↓

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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.