A collaboration between the Urban Design Forum and Van Alen Institute, Neighborhoods Now connects neighborhoods hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic with leading design firms. In Bed-Stuy, Jackson Heights, Kingsbridge, Washington Heights, and the Lower East Side these working groups are collaborating to develop safe and effective reopening strategies.
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 launched Neighborhoods Now to channel pro-bono resources from New York-based design firms into community-driven recovery strategies.
In May 2020, the Urban Design Forum and Van Alen Institute offered to advise members of the Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development, a coalition of community organizations across New York City, on their reopening strategies. Five organizations joined the initiative: 82nd Street Partnership in Jackson Heights, Queens; Bed-Stuy Gateway BID and Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn; Community League of the Heights in Washington Heights, Manhattan; and the Northwest Bronx Community & Clergy Coalition in Kingsbridge, Bronx.
Throughout the summer, these organizations collaborated with coalitions of architects, engineers, lawyers, and planners from Van Alen and Urban Design Forum’s collective network. The outcomes are a set of design recommendations and prototypes addressing immediate needs for COVID-19 awareness campaigns, open air dining, and outdoor education and wellness activities.
In some neighborhoods, prototypes have already been implemented, and Van Alen and Urban Design Forum are actively fundraising to support additional implementation. To help these efforts, learn about sponsorship opportunities here.
Neighborhoods’ needs also went beyond design and physical interventions. To date, the working groups have organized financial workshops for small businesses, drafted legal templates, and collaborated with senior staff at City agencies to help neighborhoods access programs like Open Streets and Open Restaurants.
In collaboration with our community partners, three graphic design firms — Partner & Partners, Pentagram, 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. Scroll down to learn more and download as many as you like.
Have you displayed any of these posters at your place of work? Send us a photo — we’d love to see and share!
These posters were designed by Partner & Partners in collaboration with the Bed-Stuy Gateway BID and Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation (Restoration), reflecting the diversity and languages of the neighborhood.
These posters were designed by Pentagram in collaboration with the 82nd Street BID in Jackson Heights. As dozens of languages are spoken in Jackson Heights—the most diverse neighborhood in the world—Pentagram also created write-in signs that can be filled in using any language with the completed signs as a guide for translation.
Thes posters were designed by Two Twelve in collaboration with the Northwest Bronx Community & Clergy Coalition (NWBCCC) in Kingsbridge. With write-in details, they are easily customizable and adaptable to different businesses.
Created by the Restoration working group, these pamphlets aim to share information about reopening guidelines in a concise and user-friendly style. They outline recommendations for tenants, small businesses, and neighborhoods.
Created by law firm Fried Frank, this legal template can be used by businesses who want to operate a pop-up location on a vacant property owned by someone else.
Download: General License Agreement Template (PDF)
82nd Street Partnership
Jackson Heights, Queens
ARO, Design Advocates, LTL, MOS, nARCHITECTS, LTL, and SO-IL collaborated with the 82nd Street Partnership. Together, they helped several restaurants participate in the city’s Open Restaurant program, and are looking toward the future with a pandemic-era reinvention of the beloved annual Viva La Comida festival.
Bed-Stuy Gateway BID
Design Advocates, Grimshaw, Jaklitsch/Gardner, Moody Nolan, and W Architecture collaborated with the Bed-Stuy Gateway BID. The working group is currently implementing hand sanitizer stations in public spaces and recently organized a mediation between landlords and small businesses owners to aid with lease negotiations.
Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation (Restoration)
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. They are now sourcing materials for outdoor pop-up seating and murals to celebrate the neighborhood’s strengths.
Community League of the Heights (CLOTH)
Washington Heights, Manhattan
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. The working group is now also sourcing materials for Word Up Community Bookshop’s programming.
Northwest Bronx Community & Clergy Coalition (NWBCCC)
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 also organized a seminar for small businesses on how to apply for relief loans and recently installed one of their outdoor dining prototypes.
University Neighborhood Housing Program (UNHP) and 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 (UNHP)
Dattner Architects and MBB are collaborating with University Neighborhood Housing Program to reconfigure their main office to meet COVID-19 safety protocols and to create an outdoor shading system at the Rose Hill Community Center that allows for outdoor, socially-distanced gatherings.
Neighborhoods Now Summit
October 6 and 7, 11 am–1 pm
Join this two-part public forum with our participating designers and our community partners to discuss their work and goals for the future.
Neighborhoods Now Kickoff
Friday, June 26, 9–11 am
This roundtable session brought together the Neighborhoods Now community partners with diverse panelists to build a foundational knowledge for the working groups’ process and to help inform the public about the issues at hand.
Leslie Ramos, 82nd Street Partnership
Rachel Joseph, Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation
Medina Sadiq, J.D., Bed-Stuy Gateway BID
Leah James, Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition
Jackie Tesman, Community League of the Heights
Yvonne Stennett, Community League of the Heights
Luisa Borrell, CUNY
Melissa Fleischut, New York State Restaurant Association
Alison Mears, Parsons Healthy Materials Lab
Andrea Batista Schlesinger, HR&A Advisors
Barika Williams, Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development
For more information on Neighborhoods Now, contact:
Associate Director, Business Development and Special Initiatives
212 924 7000 x 18
Information about sponsorship opportunities can be found here.
To learn more about how to support Neighborhoods Now, including helping our community partners realize their recovery strategies, please contact:
Director of Development
212 924 7000 x 19
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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.
See all work at urbandesignforum.org.
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.