Work Program Architects is leading an effort to OpenNorfolk, as cities and towns around the world try to imagine living with COVID-19. WPA is teaming with the City of Norfolk and the Downtown Norfolk Council, as well as national tactical urbanism leaders at Team Better Block and Yard + Co. to develop a tool kit to help restaurants and small retail businesses open up safely with increased outdoor space.
From Paris to Milan, from Lima to Seattle, cities are implementing “Stay Healthy Streets,” closed to through-traffic, pop-up bike lanes called “coronapistes,” “Gastro-Safe Zones” to separate walkers from diners, and even maze-like walking routes separated by three-foot hedges.
Back at home in Norfolk, the team is taking these international strategies to another level, by offering individual, in-the-field assistance to small businesses. Custom-designed signage is being delivered to restaurants and is available to download for those wanting to DIY. Outdoor furniture, parklets, string lights and festive pennants are being delivered to those restaurants in need of additional assistance. The team worked with the City of Norfolk, the Virginia Department of Health, and the Virginia ABC to design a program that meets all guidelines and allows restaurants and bars to open in their parking lots, on city sidewalks, or in on-street parking spaces. Solutions prioritize equity across the City, maximizing existing green spaces and looking for new opportunities, particularly in hard-hit neighborhoods.
As described in the Virginian Pilot article, restaurant seating spills outdoors, with tables spaced at appropriate distances, and take-out/pickup zones clearly marked on commercial corridors. Online booking and reservations are best practices, and diners are encouraged to bring their own silverware, so as not to create increased waste with disposable products. Retail businesses are encouraged to wear masks, limit the number of people inside their establishments, and “Do Your Part and Stay 6-feet Apart!”
The next phase of OpenNorfolk, designed by Yard + Co., is a proactive system for reopening businesses and their districts that can ebb and flow with Governor’s orders based on health data. It allows businesses to choose where they are in the recovery and reopening phase and clearly communicate that phase and what it means to their customers. In neighborhood streets, parks and trails, and the public realm, this next phase provides people opportunities to resume life while respecting social distance. Some examples seem a return to former eras; imagine watching a drive-in movie from the top of a parking deck, or going to a drive-in diner. In some cases, the solutions feel futuristic; imagine dining in a private outdoor glass “house,” a strategy already being tested in Amsterdam.
Plans have the support of all city agencies, including Neighborhood Development and Public Safety, as well as a city-wide corps of volunteers. While the WPA/Better Block/Yard & Co. team builds parklets for sitting or play, and designs and installs new street markings and wayfinding signs, volunteers will distribute and hang signage, paint parklets, and paint stencils onto the sidewalks and new multiuse paths.