Arup unveils design recommendations for commercial corridors and public spaces in New York City impacted by COVID-19

Jackie Wei Green Jackie Wei Green Senior Communications Leader,Los Angeles
28 August 2020

Arup is pleased to announce a comprehensive set of design recommendations as part of Neighborhoods Now—an initiative launched by the Urban Design Forum and Van Alen Institute to support New York neighborhoods heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic as they work to reopen and thrive over the coming months.  

Arup collaborated with the Community League of the Heights (CLOTH) and a team of designers that included Design Advocates, Woods Bagot, Stantec and Gensler on the development of a range of revitalization and community-building strategies for Washington Heights. The group partnered with community members including local business and property owners. The resulting recommendations are detailed in the final report, which is anchored by three concept proposals designed to activate retail stores and restaurants and provide safe outdoor space for residents of all ages.


The concept proposals include:

  • Expanding restaurant capacity flexibly onto streets and plazas

  • Adding pedestrianization and programming to streets and public open spaces

  • Applying flexible retail solutions to neighborhood frontages and vacant interiors

Neighborhoods Now emphasizes a collaborative, community-based approach to urban planning. Community groups in Washington Heights, Bed-Stuy, Jackson Heights, and Kingsbridge were paired with leading design firms to create safe, contextually appropriate reopening strategies. As coordinator of the Washington Heights planning effort, Arup served as the primary link between CLOTH and the design team. 

The Washington Heights small business community faces multiple challenges. With the expertise of the Neighborhoods Now team, we were able to address some of these challenges with practical, cost effective solutions. We are truly grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with such talented architects and designers. Their commitment to safe re-openings and eye for detail is second to none. An invaluable resource. ” Yvonne Stennett Executive Director, Community League of the Heights

CLOTH has worked to support and empower economically disadvantaged residents of Washington Heights for over 50 years and guided Arup and the team in identifying the neighborhood’s critical priorities, which included:

  • Extending restaurants safely into the street while maintaining protection from traffic

  • Configuring public spaces to allow for socially-distanced activity

  • Creatively communicating COVID-19 safety guidelines in public spaces

  • Making use of available interior and outdoor spaces for educational programs

  • Improving coordination with owners of vacant storefronts to facilitate temporary uses and activities

It was important to the team that the designs proposed for Washington Heights were not just conceptually sound, but also flexible, affordable and implementable. “We wanted to provide a final product that went beyond high-level strategies and could give some tangible next steps to move elements forward,” said Arup urban planner and project manager Zach Postone. “Since one of the major challenges to implementation is navigating complex legal and permitting requirements, we wanted to map out the process as clearly as possible.” To this end, the report provides detailed design recommendations, prototypes, fabrication instructions and implementation guidance sourced directly from city agencies, including the NYC Departments of Health, Parks and Recreation, Transportation and Small Business Services.

Along with the three concept designs, the report outlines a plan for flexible, scalable educational programming and recommends the creation of a variety of tools to support outdoor learning and education.

Washington Heights street Washington Heights street

As the next step, Van Alen Institute and the Urban Design Forum will work with the four neighborhood teams to collect and collate their recommendations. They are expected to publish the designs and insights gained from the initiative in October along with a capstone public program.  The coordinating firms and design teams will focus on actively supporting their community group partners through implementation.

Arup’s work on this project was made possible by funding provided by Arup Community Engagement