Client: Central Baltimore Partnership
Location: Baltimore, MD, United States
Completion date: 2020
Central Baltimore Partnership
Furniture and Art Consultant
: JW Radabaugh
As Baltimore’s local businesses face unprecedented challenges amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the design firms bold, elegant, and socially conscious interventions serve as templates for urban commercial districts nationwide.
The Design for Distancing challenge – organized by the City of Baltimore, the Neighborhood Design Center, Baltimore Development Corporation, and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health – called on the city’s design and public health communities to scope, develop, and implement interventions to reactivate its main streets and arts districts.
The interventions extend the curbside to create more accessible pedestrian walkways that make way for outdoor dining and establish retail presence. Stackable, portable furniture and easily washable polycarbonate partitions enable neighborhood dining staples like Orto, Tapas Teatro, and Sofi’s Crepes to transition back from takeout to sidewalk dining.
Each addition is an aesthetic and cultural fit for the neighborhood. New lanterns on Charles Street, for example, speak to the neighborhood’s historic Korean community. Murals along North Avenue derive their color scheme from the Station North Arts District branding, which is itself inspired by the colors, patterns, and textures found throughout the neighborhood.
A lane takeover along the 1700 block of Charles Street helps facilitate the process, with distinctive blue paint to delineate pedestrian walking zones and patron dining areas. The selection of native plantings clarifies boundaries between pedestrians and traffic while creating urban habitat and underpinning an authentic feel for the block. ADA accessibility is a priority. The project's defining ethos of functionality means that all elements are designed for post-pandemic reuse, hearkening to a future with a pedestrian-owned streetscape and a commercial corridor where small businesses can make a bigger mark.
The renewed activity isn't limited to dining: the Charles and Parkway Theaters can now host outdoor movie screenings across the street from their brick and mortar location, where multicolored circles at six foot intervals demarcate audience seating. During the day, this former parking lot can be oriented to host up to 18 vendors for a local market experience - all at a safe distance.
Through the competition, the design firm partnered with Station North Arts District and Central Baltimore Partnership. The collaborative team, including Mayson-Dixon Companies, QWRK, Ornamental Nature, Guppy Management Services, and B+B Lab worked to reimagine the 1700 block of Charles Street and North Avenue and create healthy and safe spaces where local businesses can flourish once again. The design gives small businesses the means to operate outdoors, and to do so safely in environments that lend themselves naturally to social distancing.
At a time when it was necessary to go the extra mile to prevent the loss of an entire generation of small business in Baltimore, the design team and its local partners came together and put in the effort. Built on 20 volunteers' commitment to show up in person and sweat through more than 630 hours of work, the Design for Distancing interventions provide tangible economic viability during a crisis. The Design for Distancing project in Station North Arts and Entertainment District aided the businesses in generating $700K in revenue in the months following the final installation.