Neighborhoods Now: Resources and Design Recommendations

September 1, 2020

Neighborhoods Now Initiative Shares Design Recommendations and Resources to Aid NYC Communities’ Reopening

Swath of new resources available to public include social distancing posters, informational pamphlets, and legal templates

On October 6-7, Urban Design Forum and Van Alen Institute will host summit to share learnings and help pandemic recovery across NYC

(September 1, 2020—New York City)—The Urban Design Forum and Van Alen Institute have published a series of design recommendations and downloadable resources for community-based pandemic recovery strategies, created by design professionals and local organizations participating in Neighborhoods Now. Launched in June 2020, Neighborhoods Now channels pro-bono resources from New York-based design and interdisciplinary firms into site-specific strategies for neighborhoods’ recovery and reopening. The Forum and Van Alen organized this initiative in response to the COVID-19 pandemic’s disproportionate impact on communities of color and neighborhoods that already lack access to resources as a result of long-term structural inequities.

Neighborhoods Now launched in collaboration with the 82nd Street Partnership (Jackson Heights, Queens); Bed-Stuy Gateway BID and Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation (Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn); Community League of the Heights (Washington Heights); and Northwest Bronx Community & Clergy Coalition (Kingsbridge, Bronx). In neighborhood-specific working groups, these community organizations have collaborated with design firms in a six-week sprint to develop safe and effective reopening strategies tailored to specific sites in those communities.

To date, more than 200 individuals have provided thousands of hours of support and an estimated $1.3 million in in-kind services. They include members of 65 interdisciplinary firms including Arup, COOKFOX, Henning Larsen, Moody Nolan, and SO-IL, and 25 consulting experts from the fields of community development, engineering, graphic design, land-use law, public health, and urban planning. New York City’s Departments of City Planning, Health, Parks, Sanitation, and Transportation and the New York City Economic Development Corporation have also participated in community consultations.


The initial outcomes, released this week, are a comprehensive set of design recommendations and prototypes for open-air restaurant extensions, flexible retail displays for storefronts and pop-ups, modular street furniture and shading elements to activate underutilized open spaces, and more. In some neighborhoods, the working groups have implemented prototypes of their designs, such as outdoor barriers enabling more restaurants to participate in the city’s Open Restaurants program. Van Alen and Urban Design Forum are actively fundraising to support additional implementation.

Over the past six weeks, the Neighborhoods Now working groups have also created supplementary materials, now available for free download by the public. These include:

  • Multilingual signage with COVID-19 health protocols, designed by Partner & Partners, Pentagram, and Two Twelve
  • Informational pamphlets tailored for businesses and residents
  • Legal template to aid the activation of vacant properties, created by Fried Frank

“We’ve been so lucky to work with the Neighborhoods Now initiative, which has brought really talented technical capacity to help implement the solutions identified and developed by our community,” said Sandra Lobo, Executive Director, Northwest Bronx Community & Clergy Coalition. “Neighborhoods Now is a great example of how partnerships across diverse stakeholders with community at the center can be transformative when addressing economic and community development issues, especially at this challenging time when many residents and businesses feel invisible and forgotten.”

Neighborhoods Now has brought equity to our community by providing direct assistance to the most needy small businesses and free planning services to our organization,” said Leslie Ramos, Executive Director, 82nd Street Partnership. “Without this initiative, it would have taken us years to do the work accomplished in just a few weeks.”

For a complete list of participating organizations and firms, each working group’s full report, and photos from projects implemented to date, visit


Neighborhoods Now Summit

October 6-7, 11 am-1 pm

Register here

In this two-part capstone event, the Neighborhoods Now working groups will come together to present their accomplishments, discuss their goals for the future, and share reopening strategies that can be deployed across New York City and beyond. The Urban Design Forum and Van Alen Institute will also debut a publication with key findings from the initiative, including concrete and actionable recommendations for city governments, community organizations, and design firms keen to take on similar projects.

About Urban Design Forum

Urban Design Forum mobilizes civic leaders to confront the defining issues facing New York City’s built environment. We are an independent membership organization that empowers professionals of diverse backgrounds, industries and perspectives to shape a better future for all New Yorkers. We investigate complex challenges in the built environment, study alternative approaches from cities around the world, and advance progressive strategies to build a more dynamic and democratic city.

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About Van Alen Institute

Van Alen Institute helps create equitable cities through inclusive design. In an equitable city, every person is civically engaged, regardless of income or personal circumstances. To achieve that goal, inclusive design supports a community-driven public realm.

For more than 125 years, our purposeful community engagement, convening capacity, and global interdisciplinary network have produced profound transformations in the public realm of New York City and beyond. With a core belief in an interdisciplinary approach to design, the Van Alen team has backgrounds in architecture, urban planning, public health, civic advocacy, community engagement, and arts and culture.

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Van Alen Institute and Urban Design Forum would like to thank the generous sponsors whose contributions have made Neighborhoods Now possible. These include Lead sponsors KPF and CitiBank; Benefactor sponsors Alloy and Ponce Bank; Advocate sponsors Studio Libeskind, nARCHITECTS, Brooklyn Cooperative Federal Credit Union, and the Elmezzi Foundation; and Patron sponsors Civitas and Bednark Studio.