Design firms and communities of color collaborate on reopening strategies in the wake of COVID-19

The Urban Design Forum and Van Alen Institute launched Neighborhoods Now.
Courtesy of Neighborhood Now

NYC communities that were hit hardest by COVID-19 and major design firms are prepared to collaborate on reopening strategies.

In New York City and across the country, the pandemic has disproportionately affected communities of color. In a move to channel the talent of New York’s top design firms into these communities’ recovery, the Urban Design Forum and Van Alen Institute recently launched Neighborhoods Now.

“During this unprecedented time, Moody Nolan has a continued commitment to use design and our voice as vehicles for positive change,” said Latoya Kamdang, senior associate and director of New York operations for Moody Nolan, one of Neighborhood Now’s coordinating firms. “As New York City begins the reopening process, we are optimistic about the ways our involvement in the Neighborhoods Now program will impact some of the city’s most vulnerable communities. This moment in history also opens the door for dialogue on the critical need for organizations to implement real diversity throughout its ranks and distribution of contracts.”

Neighborhoods Now connects four neighborhoods hard-hit by the pandemic, represented by leading local organizations with more than 20 design firms in the Urban Design Forum and Van Alen’s collective network. In Bed-Stuy, Jackson Heights, Kingsbridge and Washington Heights, these working groups will collaborate through August to develop safe and effective reopening strategies.

Each working group will develop tailored solutions for shared gathering spaces in those neighborhoods, which may include restaurants, storefronts, civic and cultural organizations, parks, and streets.

Community partners

Coordinating design firms

Recommendations will address how to reconfigure businesses to protect workers and customers, how to outfit community parks and gardens for social distancing, how to navigate permitting for sidewalk or parking lane temporary uses or how to repurpose vacant spaces as places for convening, culture and healing.

“Northwest Bronx Community & Clergy Coalition is excited to be partnering with the Urban Design Forum and Van Alen Institute on the Neighborhoods Now initiative that is supporting local businesses and organizations to re-open safely,” said Sandra Lobo, executive director, Northwest Bronx Community & Clergy Coalition. “The Bronx has been the epicenter of the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic and these services are critical to helping our community recover.”

The initiative will be bookended by two programs open to the public:

This kick-off session will bring the Neighborhood 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.

Speakers include:

  • Luisa Borrell, CUNY
  • Melissa Fleischut, New York State Restaurant Association
  • Alison Mears, Healthy Materials Lab, New School
  • Andrea Batista Schlesinger, HR&A Advisors
  • Barika Williams, Association for Neighborhood & Housing Development

The second event is the Neighborhoods Now Share-Out, which will take place during “late summer” at a “to be decided” date.

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