Neighborhoods Now: Community League of the Heights

This work is part of Neighborhoods Now, an umbrella initiative; learn more about it here.


    Conducting a needs assessment of businesses to help create a thriving and vibrant commercial corridor.

    Launched in Spring 2020, Neighborhoods Now is a collaboration between the Urban Design Forum and Van Alen Institute to connect NYC neighborhoods hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic with design firms in our collective network. In 2022, under the heading Neighborhoods Now: Forward, the initiative is evolving from rapid, tactical responses to long-term recovery strategies on a wider scale. Led by community organizations, seven interdisciplinary teams will enliven and program public space, provide technical support to small businesses, and strengthen cultural activities.

    The Washington Heights team, led by CLOTH with Beyer Blinder Belle, BJH Advisors, HLW, and Cause + Matter Design Studio, is creating a vision plan for the neighborhood’s public realm. This plan will include a business database, retail storefront design prototypes, and design concepts for key public spaces. The team is also developing a set of strategies for improving open spaces. signage and wayfinding, public sculpture, streetscape improvements, and pop-up markets.

    As a foundation for this vision plan, they recently completed a needs assessment of local businesses that includes a business and vacancy inventory, an analysis of community demographics, and a streetscape survey that considers the locations that serve as gateways to the community. In addition to these surveys, the team has hosted community engagement and visioning sessions to learn more about specific needs of small business owners and how residents view their community.

    Who We’re Working With

    Current Firms

    Past Firms

    2020-21 Goals and Outcomes

    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 “kit-of-parts” for outdoor education, including for Word Up Community Bookshop’s programming. The working group has installed one of their outdoor dining prototypes and connected with additional businesses in the neighborhood who could use pop-up spaces through flyering.

    Return to School Logistics
    Arup worked to evaluate potential options for managing socially- distanced student entry into the school. These studies addressed high level requirements for social distancing and use of external spaces to manage and process queues for students.

    Open Restaurant Seating
    Woods Bagot worked with Salento Colombian Coffee & Kitchen to implement a pilot version of the year-round seating concept design.

    Open Streets
    Stantec and CLOTH applied for five playstreets through the City’s Open Streets program. In addition, they developed a proposal for Plaza de las Americas for a collective restaurant seating area and series of pop-up gardens to encourage purchase of take-out from nearby restaurants and to provide green spaces at this largely paved plaza.

    Informational Materials
    Design Advocates created a print pamphlet for businesses as well as commercial property owners, to show the potential for pop-up activations in vacant storefronts.

    Small Business Support
    In collaboration with Word Up Community Bookshop, the team designed Community Blocks, a flexible outdoor kit-of-parts that can be arranged to create a variety of structures that support educational programming, serve as a civic gathering space or help local businesses move their operations into the public realm. The team also worked with Sisters Uptown to design custom outdoor retail and seating for their facade.

    Project Resources

    2 resource(s) for this project.

    2020 Presentation

    The use of the information contained in this proposal document, “Neighborhoods Now: Washington Heights Working Group Final Report,” is at the sole risk of the user, and Van Alen Institute shall not be responsible for, or liable in any way for, the accuracy, completeness or any other matter with respect to the contents herein. The user hereby assumes all risks of the use of the information, and irrevocably and unconditionally waives, releases and discharges Van Alen Institute and its direct and indirect members, directors, officers, employees, agents, affiliates, volunteers and representatives, from any and all liability of any kind or nature whatsoever, in connection with the matters contained herein, and the use of the information contained herein.