Van Alen Institute and Urban Design Forum launch online design toolkit for COVID-19 recovery efforts

Emilee Geist

The Brooklyn-based nonprofit Van Alen Institute and the Urban Design Forum have unveiled a new digital toolkit that features over 40 design-driven strategies, guidelines, prototypes, and other resources meant to support safe and community-focused recovery and reopening efforts during—and in the wake of—the coronavirus pandemic.

Although the resources were generated by New York City neighborhood-specific working groups as part of the Neighborhoods Now rapid-response initiative, many of the tools that are now freely available to access at can be applied to any neighborhood in any city that’s looking for a helping hand as communities attempt to move forward and reopen.

Neighborhoods Now, which pairs community organizations with coordinating interdisciplinary design firms to form dedicated working groups focused on recovery and reopening tactics in a quintet of New York neighborhoods, was first launched in mid-June. Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn; Jackson Heights, Queens; Kingsbridge, the Bronx, and the Washington Heights section of Upper Manhattan were the initial four neighborhoods involved in the effort, with the Lower East Side joining the initiative later.

At the beginning of September, the various schemes generated by each Neighborhoods working group were publicly revealed and included street beautification efforts, outdoor dining barriers, pop-up playgrounds, outdoor art and cultural spaces, and more. With the release of the online toolkit, the Van Alen Institute has also shared the news that it has raised $100,000 that will go toward the realization of the aforementioned schemes. Some, including in hard-hit, culturally diverse Jackson Heights, have already begun to be implemented.

“Neighborhoods Now has brought equity to our community by providing direct assistance to the [neediest] small businesses and free planning services to our organization,” said Leslie Ramos, executive director of Jackson Height’s 82nd Street Partnership, which teamed with SO – IL as coordinating firm for its working group, in a statement. “Without this initiative, it would have taken us years to do the work accomplished in just a few weeks.”

As for the toolkit, its multitude of resources—which will continue to grow as new designs and strategies are generated—fall under a dozen searchable categories including signage/pamphlets, barrier, display, legal/outreach, arts, public space, and restaurants.

Many resources are also available for instant download, including a series of reopening guides created by the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation with coordinating firm KPF and attention-grabbing COVID-19 safety PSA posters, available in four different languages or sans text, that were designed by Pentagram in collaboration with the 82nd Street Partnership.

“For us, the Neighborhoods Now project has provided an extraordinary opportunity to serve our city at a critical time,” said James von Klemperer, president of KPF. “Working closely with the Restoration Corporation to help the Bed-Stuy community to stay functional in this COVID period has been both productive and faith-inspiring. I hope this work will open up doors for us all to be more engaged in the future.”

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