Adapting Outdoor Amenity Space & Streetscapes for Safety and Activity

September 9, 2020

The pandemic that initially drove most of us inside is now driving change in our outdoor spaces as we move into recovery mode of the response and recovery phase.  Many of us are finding refuge, solace, and safer opportunities outside.  While trails and large parks can generally accommodate recreation and proper social distancing, our smaller urban amenity spaces and streetscapes are tougher to address.  

But designers are problem-solvers and webinars, design guides, and manufacturers of site furnishings are popping up to answer the call.  Here are some things VIKA MD has been focusing on as we work with our clients to rethink and reposition the outdoor spaces serving our urban fabric.

Curbside Pick Up

An early adaptation many retail/restaurant sites and mixed-use main streets have put in place is to replace longer-term parking with short-term pick up and curbside delivery spaces.  This can be accomplished with simple signage and temporary pavement markings.  Key to it’s success is the ability to safely navigate the quick turn-over of vehicles, pedestrians (whether employees delivering or patrons picking up), and delivery services. 

Figure 1: Curbside Pick Up (Source:

And pick-up doesn’t only work for the basics: Montgomery Parks hosted an on-line plant-pick up in May that used an on-line form to fill out one’s order and a quick pick-up of your plants at one of three Park sites.  Hoping they have a fall plant sale!

Until (if?) we are back to the hubbub of mingling and sharing space without fear, this simple tactic at least supports the businesses we rely on and that we would dearly miss if they disappeared.

Streetscape Adaptations

If streetscapes have room, of course, it’s wonderful to be able to provide that outdoor atmosphere that we all miss.  Main Street America and AARP Livable Communities have collaborated on an excellent set of resources to support economic recovery and the following outline quickly walks through five design-centered strategies:

  • Open Streets
    • Take advantage of lower vehicular traffic volumes by temporarily opening streets to pedestrians.  This extra space allows for seating, dining, and recreation in a larger space than typical sidewalk and can attract people to patronize the adjacent businesses.

  • Parklets & Pedlets
    • Rather than shutting down entire streets, this strategy focuses on replacing parking spaces or lanes to provide additional pedestrian walking space, café seating areas, green space, or public art displays.

Figure 2: PreFab Parklet from Streetscapes, Inc.
  • Public Amenities
    • Set up moveable furniture, establish spatial markers to indicate safe distances, provide wifi and fun art or light to attract people back to downtowns.

  • Focus on Small Businesses
    • Those hardest hit are also those who employee the most people and their on-line presence must be supported (see curb-side pickup).  Walkable environments also need to be enhanced and safety precautions must be visible and obvious to make patrons and employees comfortable.

  • Trails & Parks
    • Trail use is surging – it’s a great way to maintain social distance but get exercise and recover from cabin fever.  Connecting trails and parks to urban hubs through proper wayfinding and the strategies listed above can also bring people back to main street and support our local businesses.

Figure 3: Landscape Forms’ Space-Defining “Artful House” Rooms

Tactical Urbanism

When one or more strategies have been adopted, the fine-grained design of urban spaces can be addressed through tactical urbanism – low cost, scalable interventions.  This list of site furnishings and amenities can be used to adapt to various types of open space and moved around as conditions change:

  • Containers & Planters  
  • Moveable Tables & Chairs
  • Umbrellas
  • Bollards & Fencing
  • Seating Platforms

Figure 4: Maglin Flexx Collection Panels

Many of these products are now made of recycled or recyclable materials that can be easily maintained and disinfected.  And don’t forget bike parking – bicycle sales are up 75% in many cities!

Figure 5: Anova Provides a Disinfection Guide for Materials