An illustration from the guidebook for the city program, “Design for Distancing.” The guidebook serves as a resource for the safe design of public spaces as the city reopens.

As Baltimore’s local businesses and neighborhoods attempt to “reopen” safely for dining and shopping after the lockdown prompted by the Covid-19 pandemic, new public “installations” are appearing around the city to aid in the effort.

The changes include street barriers, outdoor seating, sidewalk markings, signs and “parklets” that are being funded under a Baltimore City program called “Design for Distancing: Reopening Baltimore Together.”

Launched in May, Design for Distancing is a “tactical design initiative” intended to help the city’s small businesses reopen without compromising public health by using temporary installations within an urban setting.

“This is an exciting time for our small businesses forced to shutter due to the global pandemic,” said Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, in a statement.

“These new tactical installations will create additional space for businesses to open and operate safely,” the mayor said. “Design for Distancing is all about providing support for our local small businesses to reopen without endangering public health. Baltimore City, the Baltimore Development Corporation and our hundreds of small business owners are all committed to the health and safety of our residents.”

Participating communities include Belair-Edison, Brooklyn, East Monument, Hamilton-Lauraville, Hampden, Highlandtown, Hollins Market, Market Center, Mount Vernon, Mount Washington, Oldtown Mall, Pennsylvania Avenue, Pigtown, Pimlico, Station North, Waverly and York Road.

Each has been paired with a local design-build team to assess the area’s specific needs to develop and implement temporary installations, which are expected to remain in place until the late fall.

The quasi-public Baltimore Development Corporation is managing implementation and funding the construction, and the non-profit Neighborhood Design Center is managing the design portion of the initiative.

Design teams referred to an online publication developed for the program, the Design for Distancing Guidebook, so their projects adhere to public health recommendations made by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health experts.

An illustration from the Design for Distancing Guidebook.

“City agencies, design-build teams, and commercial districts have been working as quickly and efficiently as possible — from permitting to procuring to fabricating and installing these parklets, as small businesses need our support more than ever,” said Colin Tarbert, president & CEO of BDC.

“The installations in these areas were designed to be flexible in order to adapt to the changing circumstances in this very fluid situation,” he said. “On top of the local teams giving so much of their time and energy to make this happen quickly, volunteers are rallying together to help implement these installations.”

To increase outdoor seating and lighting, and reclaim portions of the street in order to make it more pedestrian-friendly, Mount Vernon had a series of parklets installed with tables and chairs in the 300, 800, 900 and 1100 blocks of North Charles Street. Additional chairs and tables will be placed outside in Mount Vernon Place and additional lighting will be installed on West Read Street. The changes are made possible by the City of Baltimore in partnership with the Charles Street Development Corporation, Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association, Midtown Community Benefits District, and WPM Real Estate.

Weather permitting on August 22 and 23, volunteers in the Market Center Bromo District will gather to create a new public space at 200 West Lexington Street. This space will include seating and different areas marked by plants and other landscape features. There will be a number of satellite installations at different locations that will incorporate public art and graphic signage. This is through a partnership with the Bromo Arts District, the Market Center Merchants Association, and PI.KL Studio.

Later this month and in early September, additional districts will receive installations, including:

Brooklyn: The design team will create outdoor seating environments enclosed by innovative canopy structures, enhanced with planters and distancing graphics in the neighborhood. A separate outdoor space near a bus stop will include safe seating and graphics for transit users. The installation is made possible by the City of Baltimore in partnership with the Greater Baybrook Alliance and Studio Point Studio.

Rendering for Brooklyn created by twopoint studio.

Hollins Market: The design team will create a new public seating environment at the parking lot adjacent to Hollins Market, in the 1100 block of Hollins Street, as well as a number of outdoor waiting and seating areas at various locations in the district. This is made possible by the City of Baltimore in partnership with Southwest Partnership, Hollins Roundhouse, Baltimore Public Markets Corporation, Parking Authority of Baltimore City, and PI.KL Studio.

Belair-Edison: The team will install a series of interventions along Belair Road including sidewalk parklets, a play space for children and “wayfinding” graphics for the neighborhood.  This is made possible by The City of Baltimore and Belair-Edison Neighborhoods, Inc. in partnership with EnviroCollab + Hatch Exhibits.

In addition to these areas, public space reconfigurations will be implemented across more than a dozen city districts, including current and former Main Streets, Retail Business Licensing Districts and Arts & Entertainment districts identified as priority areas for the Small Business Assistance Fund grant program.

Design for Distancing: Reopening Baltimore Together is the result of a $1.5 million investment from Baltimore City’s COVID-19 Small Business Assistance Initiative. More information about BDC’s efforts can be found online at

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Ed Gunts

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.

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