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A collaboration between the Urban Design Forum and Van Alen Institute, Neighborhoods Now connects New York City neighborhoods hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic with design firms in our collective network.  Since May 2020, Neighborhoods Now has provided support to hundreds of restaurants, small businesses, and cultural organizations in hard-hit neighborhoods across New York City.

Outdoor dining area constructed for Tropical Rotisserie on Sedgwick Ave. Photo: Cameron Blaylock
Outdoor dining area constructed for Tropical Rotisserie on Sedgwick Ave. Photo: Cameron Blaylock
Community clean-up day in Kingsbridge, Bronx; October 17, 2020. Photo: Carla Swickerath
Installation of planters in Restoration Plaza, Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn; October 15, 2020. Photo: Cameron Blaylock
Paint and Plant event in Jackson Heights, Queens, July 25, 2020. Photo: Sam Lahoz
Paint and Plant event in Jackson Heights, July 25, 2020. Photo: Sam Lahoz
The Chinatown team kicks off their Chinatown Nights series. This open-air festival featured programming alongside local street vendors. Photo: Leroy Street Studio
Community members in the South Bronx clean up an empty lot on East 163rd Street to reactivate community gardens. Photo: Banana Kelly

A collaboration between the Urban Design Forum and Van Alen Institute, Neighborhoods Now connects New York City neighborhoods hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic with design firms in our collective network. Launched in May 2020, Neighborhoods Now initially convened eight working groups led by community organizations in Bed-Stuy, Jackson Heights, Kingsbridge, the Lower East Side, and Washington Heights. What was intended to be a six-week sprint turned into long-term partnerships, and nearly all of these working groups continue to collaborate beyond their initial scope.

In February 2021, we expanded the initiative with new working groups based in Chinatown, the East Village and Lower East Side, and the South Bronx. With new coalitions of designers, engineers, and landscape architects, each working group aims to convert underutilized outdoor spaces as sites for community programming and cultural revitalization. The Forum and Van Alen have granted each new community partner $10,000 to implement these strategies, and will provide additional fundraising support as funds become available.


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The results of our work in 2020-21 are a set of design recommendations and prototypes addressing immediate needs for COVID-19 awareness campaigns, open air dining, and outdoor education and cultural programming. Several prototypes have now been implemented, and Van Alen Institute and the Urban Design Forum are actively fundraising to support additional implementation — with $195,000 regranted to community partners to date.

Neighborhoods’ needs also went beyond design and physical interventions. Working groups organized financial workshops for small businesses, drafted legal templates, and collaborated with senior staff at City agencies to help neighborhoods navigate programs like Open Streets and Open Restaurants.

To see the designs, guidelines, and strategies from the initiative’s first cohort, visit neighborhoodsnow.nyc, a digital toolkit featuring 40+ designs, strategies, and resources created by our Neighborhoods Now teams. Browse by category or search by keyword for tools to aid community-based pandemic recovery. Detailed reports from each group, posted below, provide full context for each resource and greater insight into this collaborative, community-led process.

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. 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!

Poster design by Pentagram
Poster design by Pentagram
Poster design by Partner & Partners
Poster design by Partner & Partners
Poster design by Two Twelve
Poster design by Two Twelve

Based on the initiative’s work in 2020, Van Alen and the Forum developed 10 policy recommendations that have been shared with New York City’s Departments of City Planning, Cultural Affairs, Parks and Recreation, Small Business Services, and Transportation, and the New York City Economic Development Corporation. From minimizing the NYPD’s impact on permitting Open Streets and Open Streets: Restaurants to supporting small cultural organizations to safely program outdoor activities, these recommendations serve as guiding principles for the initiative’s upcoming work.

Working Groups

Fourth Arts Block (FABnyc)
East Village, Manhattan

Marvel, SHoP, and Buro Happold will be helping FABnyc expand their Neighborhoods Now collaboration with four new member organizations: Frankel Theatre, KGB Bar / Red Room, Loisaida Inc., and Performance Space New York. Together they will develop reopening strategies tailored to needs of smaller performing arts organizations, including ways to participate in New York City’s Open Culture program.

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82nd Street Partnership
Jackson Heights, Queens

ARO, Design Advocates, LTL, MOS, nARCHITECTS, SO-IL, and VHB collaborated with the 82nd Street Partnership. Together, they helped over 20 restaurants participate in the city’s Open Restaurants program, and are continuing to support the neighborhood through exploration of a plaza for Elmhurst Hospital, and usage of the Street Seats program. They are also looking toward the future with a pandemic-era reinvention of the beloved annual Viva La Comida festival.

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Bed-Stuy Gateway BID
Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn

Design Advocates, Grimshaw, Jaklitsch/Gardner, Moody Nolan, and W Architecture collaborated with the Bed Stuy Gateway BID. The working group identified ways to activate Marcy Plaza, and in December of 2020, helped put on a COVID-safe Winter Wonderland holiday market for local businesses. They are now exploring design solutions for mitigating rats in the neighborhood and looking to organize a mediation between landlords and small businesses owners to aid with lease negotiations.

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Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation (Restoration)
Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn

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. The team is continuing to support interior reconfiguration strategies for the Restoration campus, and are exploring ways to aid broader neighborhood recovery efforts, including through small business training, wayfinding design, and public art. 

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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, including for Word Up Community Bookshop’s programming. The working group is in the process of installing one of their outdoor dining prototypes, and connecting with additional businesses in the neighborhood who could use pop-up spaces through flyering.

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Northwest Bronx Community & Clergy Coalition (NWBCCC)
Kingsbridge, Bronx

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 organized a seminar for small businesses on how to apply for relief loans, installed a mural with local artists Tats Cru, and are now working to create an outdoor meeting space for NWBCCC.

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University Neighborhood Housing Program (UNHP)
Northwest Bronx

Dattner Architects and MBB collaborated with University Neighborhood Housing Program. Together, they worked to create plans to safely update and reopen UNHP’s main office by limiting workstations, creating a COVID check-in station, and using plexiglass partitions.

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Cooper Square Committee (CSC)
Lower East Side, Manhattan

Curtis + Ginsberg Architects collaborated with Cooper Square Committee. Together, they worked to improve ventilation in the CSC office space, to recalibrate their consultation room to accommodate social distancing, and to create physical barriers between visitors and staff.

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Urban Design Forum and Van Alen Institute have invited an interdisciplinary group of experts to join the Neighborhoods Now initiative in support of our working groups.


Neighborhoods Now  Summer Summit

In our 2021 update, presenters from the Chinatown, South Bronx, and Lower East Side working groups shared their achievements, reflections on interdisciplinary practice, and plans to carry their work forward.

Sreoshy Banerjea (EDC NYC), Fauzia Khanani (Studio Fōr), Yin Kong (Think!Chinatown), Carlos Naudon (Ponce Bank), and Carol Rosenthal (Fried Frank) then joined to discuss how community organizations, city agencies, funders, and design professionals can best collaborate to help communities recover from the pandemic and thrive going forward.

Presenting Working Groups:
Banana Kelly Community Improvement Association; Fourth Arts Block; and Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE) and Think!Chinatown

Neighborhoods Now  Summit:
Strategies for Reopening and Recovery, Day 1

In this two-part public forum, our participating designers and our community partners reflected on how collaborative design can inform neighborhood recovery strategies.

Presenting Working Groups:
82nd Street Partnership, Northwest Bronx Community & Clergy Coalition (NWBCCC), and Fourth Arts Block

Neighborhoods Now Summit:
Strategies for Reopening and Recovery, Day 2

In this two-part public forum, our participating designers and our community partners reflected on how collaborative design can inform neighborhood recovery strategies.

Presenting Working Groups:
Bed-Stuy Restoration, Bed-Stuy BID, Community League of the Heights (CLOTH), University Neighborhood Housing Program, and Cooper Square Committee

Neighborhoods Now  Kickoff

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. 

Community Partners:
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:

Andrew Brown
Director of Programs
212 924 7000 x 29

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:

Kate Overbeck
Director of Development
212 924 7000 x 19

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Press Coverage

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.

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.