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. Over three years, the initiative evolved from rapid, tactical responses to long-term recovery strategies on a wider scale. Led by community organizations, seven interdisciplinary teams have enlivened and programmed public space, provided technical support to small businesses, and strengthened cultural activities.
The Washington Heights team is led by Community League of the Heights (CLOTH). In 2020-21, the team focused on solutions for small businesses weathering the pandemic, including outdoor dining designs, flexible retail displays, and a “kit-of-parts” for outdoor education. The team expanded its focus in 2022 to create a vision plan for the neighborhood’s public realm. As a foundation for this vision plan, they 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.
Small Business Support: The team worked with local restaurants including Salento Colombian Coffee & Kitchen to implement a seating concept design. In collaboration with Word Up Community Bookshop, they designed a flexible outdoor kit-of-parts that can support educational programming. They also worked with Sisters Uptown to design custom outdoor retail and seating for their facade.
Open Streets: The team applied for five playstreets through the City’s Open Streets program and 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.
Needs Assessment: As a foundation for a vision plan for the neighborhood’s public realm, the team completed a needs assessment of local businesses. This assessment 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.
Looking Forward… With learnings from the needs assessment, the team is developing concepts for retail displays, streetscape elements, and plaza furniture at a highly visible but vacant triangle in Washington Heights. This parcel — dubbed “Rise Plaza — presents an exciting opportunity as a small business focal point to attract local residents, nearby workers, and city-wide visitors. A kit-of-parts for retail displays, streetscape elements, and plaza furniture could then be implemented throughout the neighborhood along retail corridors and other smaller plazas.