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Social distancing guide offers inspiration for reopening public spaces

By Andrew Sansom 02 Jul 2020 0

The City of Baltimore, Office of the Mayor and the Baltimore Development Corporation, in partnership with non-profit the Neighborhood Design Center, have released a digital resource on safe placemaking for businesses, cities and people worldwide to safely reopen and improve their own public spaces.

Developed this spring in response to COVID-19 and the challenges faced by local businesses, the free-to-download Design for Distancing Guidebook is part of an initiative that called on Baltimore’s design and public health communities to develop innovative approaches to safe, physically distant gathering.

Experts from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, a stakeholder committee, Baltimore Development Corporation and the Neighborhood Design Center launched a competition that sought tactical concepts where physical distancing, public health, and inclusiveness were all prioritised. A review panel composed of public health experts, leaders from the City of Baltimore, and from the Baltimore small business and design communities voted on 162 design submissions from around the country, which ranged from hand-drawn sketches by children to professional renderings.

The guidebook is a compendium of the top ten concepts that were selected. Once notified, the successful design teams partnered with the Neighborhood Design Center to finalise their concepts for the guidebook, and each eligible team was awarded a $5000 stipend. The concept sketches can be viewed online at

They include:

  • Curblet commons – Graham Projects (Graham Coreil-Allen);
  • Parklet design idea – EDSA (Craig Stoner, Terri Wu);
  • Space frame – Zoe Roane-Hopkins;
  • Hygiene, hon – Ziger|Snead Architects (Doug Bothner, Jeremy Chinnis,
  • Cyrus Lee, Kelly Danz);
  • The food court – Department Design Office (Maggie Tsang, Isaac Stein);
  • Make ApART – Quinn Evans (Ethan Marchant, Steve Schwenk);
  • inFront of House – PI.KL (Pavlina Ilieva, Kuo Pao Lian);
  • ParKIT – Abby Thomas, Michael McGrain, Connor Price (Ayers Saint
  • Gross, Landscape Architecture);
  • Micro District – Yard & Company, &Access; and
  • Find Your Tropical Island – Christopher Odusanya.

“To say that this has been a very challenging time for the world would be an understatement,” said Baltimore City Mayor Bernard C “Jack” Young. “Beyond the immeasurable magnitude of human loss, we know the economic impact of COVID-19 has severely affected small businesses and their employees. Here in Baltimore and around the world, streets, sidewalks and stoops are important gathering spaces, and in many ways the intersection of our lives. Recapturing these areas is critical to our reopening and economic recovery but public health must remain at the forefront of every move we make.”

He added: “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 for the recovery of our economy and population.”

This summer, custom designs will be developed to respond directly to the conditions of the neighbourhoods and business needs in 17 Baltimore City districts.

Each district will be paired with a Baltimore-based design-build team to scope, develop, and implement the concepts. Design-build teams will be offered a design stipend, and the construction will be funded through the Baltimore Development Corporation.

“When we step outside of our homes, safely patronising neighbourhood stores, services, and restaurants will be crucial to our total recovery – not just in terms of public health but the health of our local economies,” said Baltimore Development president and chief executive Colin Tarbert.

“We’re extremely proud of the Design for Distancing initiative, not only for what it means for the economic recovery, public health and safety in neighbourhoods throughout Baltimore, but for how it can help the rest of the world do the same.”