Baltimore Looks to Creatively Reopen

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Shopping in Highlandtown, pre-pandemic

Baltimore has a big opportunity right now as it prepares to reopen, says Jennifer Goold, executive director of the city’s Neighborhood Design Center.

Reopening businesses and returning to regular life after the coronavirus pandemic brings a change to “not only support the small business community, but to really show leadership in creating new city models for physically distancing during this time,” she says. “I am really excited not only about how this will actually activate our neighborhood streets, but that we can be a shining example and provide resources for the world as a whole.”

City planners across the globe are looking for ways to reopen businesses while at the same time keeping their communities safe from the virus. In many metropolitan areas, including Baltimore, small businesses make up a large part of the footprint and a city’s culture.

Restart: Tell us about a time that you started over.

But many small business owners are unsure of their next steps. To help, the Neighborhood Design Center and Baltimore Development Corporation have teamed up to lead “Design for Distancing: Reopening Baltimore Together.” The initiative was created to work with small businesses through navigating public health and safety guidelines, while getting the community involved in the reopening process.

Calling all creatives

The NDC and BDC are holding a competition. They are looking for design concepts to help find safe and smart ways to open while adhering to social distancing practices outlined by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“We are just looking for super creative, customizable concepts for how we can utilize that (public) space, incorporating those public health guidelines, transportation guidelines, as well as what we’ve seen out in the world in terms of tactical urbanism,” Goold says.

Think outdoor dining and then some.

Indeed, the design concepts should include ways that small businesses can utilize outdoor space, such as sidewalks and parking lots, to allow people to safely visit establishments, Goold says.

With a deadline of June 7, the NDC is expecting to receive sketches soon. They hope for a quick turnaround that residents can see as soon as early July. The NDC and BDC will choose between five to 10 winning projects, which will then be included in a Design for Distancing guidebook. When released, the guidebook will be a free online resource for business and residents to use.

If you can’t contribute through design, both organizations are in the process of accepting applications for design-build team volunteers. Design-build teams will be partnered with Baltimore area main streets and business districts to help implement the winning designs by the early July deadline.

Goold says feels privileged to be working with area designers and builders on this project.

“I live in the city, and I truly believe that our small businesses not only help meet many people’s basic needs, but are the heart and soul of creativity in the city,” she says. “They create a local network of makers and suppliers that supports the economy of the city but also supports our connections to one another.”

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