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.


About ↓

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 have launched Neighborhoods Now to channel pro-bono resources from New York-based design firms into community-driven recovery strategies.

In May, the Urban Design Forum and Van Alen Institute offered to advise members of the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, a coalition of community groups across New York City, on their reopening strategies this summer. As the city reopens on a broader scale, this initiative aims to support hard-hit and under-resourced neighborhoods by devising reopening strategies that serve their specific needs.

Through August, in partnership with a local organization in each neighborhood, working groups will engage closely with local stakeholders and draw upon public health best practices to develop tailored solutions for shared gathering spaces, including restaurants, storefronts, civic and cultural organizations, parks, and streets.

The outcome will be a set of design recommendations, prototypes, and installations empowering communities to respond to their immediate needs, while contributing to the city-wide strategy on pandemic response. Recommendations may address:

  • How to reconfigure businesses to protect workers and customers
  • How to outfit community parks and plazas for social distancing
  • How to navigate permitting for sidewalk or parking lane temporary uses
  • How to repurpose vacant spaces as places for convening, culture, and healing


Working Groups ↓

Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn
Community Partners: Bed-Stuy Gateway BID and Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation

Jackson Heights, Queens
Community Partner: 82nd Street BID

Kingsbridge, Bronx
Community Partner: Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition and University Neighborhood Housing Program

Washington Heights, Manhattan
Community Partner: Community League of the Heights

Lower East Side, Manhattan
Community Partners: Cooper Square Committee and Fourth Arts Block

Coordinating Firms
Arup, COOKFOX, KPF, Moody Nolan, Volunteer Architects Limited (ARO, LTL Architects, MOS, nARCHITECTS, SO-IL, WorkAC), and Henning Larsen

Supporting Firms
Abruzzo Bodziak Architects; AE Superlab; Architensions; Barker Associates Architecture Office; Bednark Studio Inc.; Brandt : Haferd; Bureau V; Büro Koray Duman; Curtis + Ginsberg Architects; Dattner Architects; DLR Group; Farzana Gandhi Design Studio; FCA; Frederick Tang Architecture; Fried Frank; Future Expansion Architects; Gensler; Grimshaw; Jaklitsch / Gardner Architects; James Corner Field Operations; Jaros Baum & Bolles; Kalos Eidos; Kramer Levin; Lea Architecture; Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects; Michael K. Chen Architecture; NDC; New Affiliates; Office of Architecture; Office of Tangible Space; Only If Architecture; Overlay Office; PARC Office; Partner & Partners; Pentagram; Perkins and Will; Sam Schwartz; Scalar Architecture PC; Silman; Smith & Sauer; Some People Studio; Space 4 Architecture; Stantec; Studio Cadena; Studio Fōr; Studio Libeskind; Thackway McCord; Thornton Tomasetti; Two Twelve; VHB; W Architecture; WIP Studio; Woods Bagot; Worrell/Yeung


Public Programs ↓

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

More information about the online event

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.



Neighborhoods Now Share-Out
Date TBA

In this concluding summit, each working group will share back their outcomes with other neighborhood organizations, city leaders, and the public. Details to come.


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

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.