‘Design for Distancing’ guidebook provides ‘tactical concepts’ for reopening local businesses

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Baltimore’s leaders have joined with designers and public health officials to help restaurants, stores and other businesses find ways to operate safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young and others on Monday released the “Design for Distancing Ideas Guidebook,” a free online resource created to show business owners and communities how they can use streets, sidewalks and vacant lots to reopen and improve their own properties while complying with public health guidelines for social distancing.

The guidebook was created by a team that included the Mayor’s office, the Baltimore Development Corporation, the Neighborhood Design Center, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and local architects and artists, all seeking ways to improve the public realm.

Young said in a statement that the 63-page guide contains ideas that can be applied not only in Baltimore but by businesses and communities around the world.

“This Guidebook is Baltimore’s gift to the global community, and we hope it will be a valuable resource to areas far beyond our city,” he said.

“We are extremely proud of the Design for Distancing initiative, not only for what it means for the economic recovery, public health and safety in neighborhoods throughout Baltimore, but for how it can help the rest of the world,” said Colin Tarbert, president and CEO of the Baltimore Development Corporation.

To generate ideas, the city and its partners launched a design competition and received 162 entries from around the U.S. and beyond.

Entrants were asked to come up with approaches for modifying public spaces so that people can shop or dine outdoors while also adhering to public health recommendations for social distancing and proper hygiene.

The 162 submissions were judged by a review panel made up of public health experts, representatives of the design and business communities, and others. Instead of picking one winner, the judges selected 10 finalists to recognize, and their submissions reflect a range of strategies that can be put to use.

“We wanted a variety of ideas, not just one big idea,” said Neighborhood Design Center executive director Jennifer Goold. “The ideas are out there for anybody to use.”

The guidebook shows the submissions of those 10 finalists, who each received $5,000 to work with the Neighborhood Design Center to prepare their submissions for publication. The guide provides a link to the other submissions, too.

The concepts can be viewed online at designfordistancing.org. They include:

“Curblet Commons” — Graham Projects (Graham Coreil-Allen). This proposal converts a parking lane into a public space for shopping, services, dining and other gatherings with city-installed traffic bump-outs at the corner and ramps at mid-block, line striping, flex-posts, bike racks, planters and “modular stencil” graphics.

“Parklet Design Idea” — EDSA (Craig Stoner, Terri Wu). A proposal for turning a closed street into a series of well-organized pedestrian zones, including a promenade, a dining zone and a “business-oriented zone,” with murals and graphics on the ground plane and planters and sanitation stations separating the businesses.

“Space Frame” — Zoe Roane-Hopkins. This proposal offers a strategy for using modular space frames to delineate and separate areas for dining, retail and food pickup, with Plexiglas partitions supporting murals and further separating activities.

“Hygiene, Hon” — Ziger/Snead Architects (Doug Bothner, Jeremy Chinnis, Cyrus Lee, Kelly Danz). A proposal that aims to reduce disease transmission by showing how a parking lane can be retrofitted with modular hand washing stations, including graphics that remind people to “Wash Your Hands, Hon.”

“The Food Court” — Department Design Office (Maggie Tsang, Isaac Stein). This proposal shows how to transform a vacant lot into a “communal, outdoor dining garden,” with wildflowers and tall grasses creating a buffer zone that separates seating areas accessible off a one-way gravel path.

“Make ApART” — Quinn Evans (Ethan Marchant, Steve Schwenk). This arts-oriented proposal turns a vacant lot into a destination for “art classes, performances and other encounters,” using recycled shipping containers at each corner to provide space for art storage, concessions, retail or restrooms. The suggested site is a lot near the Creative Alliance in Highlandtown.

“inFRONT of House” — PI.KL (Pavlina Ilieva, Kuo Pao Lian, Brian Baksa, Esther Cho). This proposal offers a strategy for taking the “front of house” portion of a business out into the streetscape, freeing up that part of the interior to become an “auxiliary entry for service and pickup” and shifting the focus to the newly created outdoor space.

“ParKIT” — Ayers Saint Gross (Abby Thomas, Michael McGrain, Connor Price). This proposal uses a “kit of parts” to create pop-up environments that businesses and community groups can rent for a designated period of time, and then store the pieces in a portable kiosk when they’re not in use.

“Micro District” — Yard & Company, &Access. (Joe Nickol, Kevin Wright, Bobby Boone). Aimed at the poorest communities, this proposal envisions a “staffed pop-up hub and neighborhood anchor” that becomes a one-stop destination for “kids’ activities, health checks, food trucks and mobile pantries, haircuts, art, mobile libraries and internet access.”

“Find Your Tropical Island” —  Christopher Odusanya. This proposal turns a street bed into a tropical island-themed performance plaza, with lounge and market spaces designed to encourage physical distancing while removing social distancing.

In addition to the guidebook, which offers universal solutions, the city has a second component to its Design for Distancing initiative in which 17 teams propose and execute site-specific projects for locations around the city.

A Baltimore-based design-build team has been assigned to develop and implement concepts for one district in the city, based on what that area needs and using the recommendations in the guidebook.

The city has budgeted $1.5 million for design and construction of this phase. The 17 areas include: Mount Washington, Govans, Hamilton-Lauraville, Pimlico, Hampden, Waverly, Belair-Edison, Midtown/Station North, Pennsylvania Avenue, Hollins Market, Pigtown, Market Center, Federal Hill, Oldtown, Brooklyn, East Monument, and Highlandtown.

According to Goold, work is expected to start in early July and take several weeks to complete. She said these projects are considered “pop-up” environments that will remain in place at least through the early fall, until it’s too cold for people to comfortably stay outdoors and use them.

Goold said she was gratified by the response to both the ideas competition and the separate call for design-build teams.

“Everybody loves our small business districts and was ready to fully dive in and support the city,” she said.

Ed Gunts


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