Corona Plaza

Street Lab, 2018

Design Trust for Public Space and the New York City Department of Small Business Services (SBS) have partnered to launch Neighborhood Commons: Plazas, Sidewalks & Beyond, a project that will explore opportunities to improve the current model of public space governance and programming. Working with Business Improvement Districts (BIDs), Community Based Organizations (CBOs), and local businesses, Design Trust and SBS will leverage public space initiatives surrounding commercial corridors to support local economies, develop representative place-based governance models for NYC streets as public space, and produce a guide of better practices for both the City’s and community partners’ stewardship of public spaces, grounded in dignity, inclusion, and neighborhood context, and responsive to the surrounding community’s aspirations, preferences, and needs.

Project Overview

The COVID-19 pandemic has illuminated, more than ever before, the unique and key role that public spaces play in the livelihood of our neighborhoods, and especially in operations for our small businesses. With the crisis hitting commercial corridors and main streets hard, Neighborhood Commons is a timely initiative that will provide small business and place-based organizations with tools and strategies to recover as community anchors that support our main streets. 

These public spaces in the right-of-way, e.g. pedestrian plazas, open streets, outdoor dining, street seats, sidewalk cafes, and other initiatives rely on a decentralized public-private partnership models with program partners of varying capacities, from small volunteer-run nonprofits to some of the largest Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) in the City (collectively “Program Partners”), with BIDs currently managing just under half of DOT’s public space programs at the local level. Both SBS and DOT provide various types of funding, capacity building, technical assistance, project and planning support, to program partners that are engaged in some combination of public space management and commercial district management work. SBS is also the oversight agency for the City’s BID program and is deeply engaged in providing all existing BIDs with organizational development, program management, governance, and best practice sharing support. 

Program partners and small businesses along these corridors face a host of operational challenges due to location and organizational capacity for managing these spaces. Current restrictions within these spaces are rapidly changing the landscape of our city. Small businesses need additional expertise, access to private funding, coalition networking, and relationships with the myriad of agencies that share jurisdiction over public space issues. Communications between these agencies, community groups and small businesses have been notoriously siloed. Each neighborhood faces new challenges unique to their own constituencies and a one-size-fits-all approach to economic recovery will not be effective. 

Neighborhood Commons will build on the research and lessons learned from Design Trust’s 2018 Plaza Stewards Workshop in collaboration with the Neighborhood Plaza Program (NPP) at the Horticultural Society of New York and Uptown Grand Central. The Workshop framed the project by clarifying language often used in discussions of public plazas in New York City, envisioning ‘better’ plazas from the perspective of different user experiences, and crafted a research agenda for the future Design Trust initiative.

Key Project Activities

  Engage a wide-range of stakeholders, including: program partners, government agencies, and local communities, to learn about challenges and opportunities related to equity that arise out of the stewardship and governance of public space. Various approaches that different groups have adopted will be examined. This multilayered strategy may include interviews, workshops, public forums, and formal and informal meetings.

  Address how to leverage public space in the right-of-way, within and surrounding commercial corridors, including pedestrian plazas, outdoor dining, and other opportunities to support local economies

  Develop representative place-based governance models for public space and produce recommendations for better practices for public space stewardship for both local government and Program Partners, grounded in dignity, inclusion, and neighborhood context, responsive to the surrounding community’s aspirations, preferences, and needs.

Deliverables will include the following:

1. Produce a publication/toolkit

The project team will produce recommendations on ways the City can reshape its approach to the management of public spaces located in the right-of-way, and how different models of local governance, stewardship, and service delivery can impact outcomes

2. Design Pilot Activations

The project team will plan and implement two pilot projects to test recommendations, and build constituency and buy-in

3. Create a video to communicate the recommendations 

The project team will produce a video (or series of short videos) outlining lessons learned in the project publication/toolkit

Fellowship Overview

What is a Design Trust Fellow?

A design-thinker. An instigator. A collaborator. And a champion of our values:

  The cultural and democratic life of the city depends on viable public space.

  Design excellence is the minimum requirement for all public space.

  Social justice and environmental sustainability must guide public space design. 

  Rigorous engagement with all stakeholders plays a determining role in the quality of public space.

  Cross-sector partnerships are vital to achieving and sustaining longterm change.

Design Trust Fellows are leading professionals in their field or dedicated community advocates and are chosen for their talent, expertise, experience, and strong qualifications. Fellows must have demonstrated the ability to work independently and collaboratively and have direct experience producing deliverables similar to those stated in the Fellow Description. Fellows do not need to meet exact qualifications; however, they must show a willingness to explore topics outside of their previous work and demonstrate an interest and excitement for the project focus.

If chosen, the Fellow would join a network of over 100 Fellows from past Design Trust projects. Fellows will have the chance to build these relationships through participation in quarterly Fellows Forum salons tackling varying design issues in the City. The Design Trust’s strong local ties with many types of designers and urbanists in New York make this position ideal for someone looking to expand their professional network or thinking about making a career change in New York City.

The Design Trust process is open and collaborative. Fellows must work effectively with one another, the project partners, Design Trust staff, and community stakeholders. Fellows bring their skills and expertise to bear on the project, developing innovative responses to the City’s most vexing challenges, and pushing for creative thinking. With Design Trust, project partner, and community stakeholders, Fellows create unique design solutions that generate systemic or policy change for New York City’s public space.

Design Trust projects require significant time commitments from Fellows to work with multiple stakeholders, develop implementable strategies and recommendations, and produce final deliverables. The expectation is that Fellows will devote approximately 1 – 2 days per week to the project, for an approximate 12 – 18 month period beginning in December 2020. The Fellows' stipends are $15,000 each for the completed project work.


Firm principals and sole proprietors are encouraged to apply with the understanding that the fellowship is time intensive and the compensation is modest. Professionals with full-time positions may apply if they have the support of their employers; recognition of firms as sponsors of the project can be arranged. Current students are not eligible to apply, but we will consider applicants with extensive backgrounds in these fields or PhD candidates.

All applicants must, at the time of their application, have the legal ability to work in the United States and must reside in the New York City area for participation in project meetings and events. Although most work will be done remotely at least through the beginning of 2021.

Design Trust encourages people of all abilities, ethnicities, genders, national origins or ancestries, races, religions and sexualities to apply. Design Trust is also committed to accessibility and to working together with you to develop an accessibility plan. 

Fellowship Descriptions

Urban Policy Fellow

The Urban Policy Fellow is responsible for developing a set of policy recommendations for the future governance of public spaces in the right-of-way, citywide, considering varying community contexts. The Fellow will be expected to: 

  Conduct research with all the agencies that have jurisdiction over public spaces in the study areas and conduct interviews with program partners, community stakeholders and local businesses. 

  Clarify existing rules and processes governing streets and sidewalks in commercial corridors, including concession model, sidewalk cafes and street vending, and propose new or revised policies to better utilize curbside space for multiple constituencies

  Examine ways that the City or a nonprofit partner could provide expanded support and capacity-building for program partners and small businesses, including potential funding mechanisms for public space and programming

  Assess how current City service-delivery impedes quality public space management and could be restructured to ensure timely and efficient provision of both City and program partner services 

  Research plaza stewardship and public space management models of other cities

Candidates should have relevant work experience and/or a degree in urban planning, urban policy, law or a related field. Preference will be given to candidates who have conducted research and developed projects related to public plazas and streets, administrative code, and land use. Additionally, candidates should have significant experience writing about complex issues for a broad public audience; working directly with and presenting to clients (public-sector clients preferred); working on collaborative projects or in teams. 

Design Fellow

The Design Fellow is responsible for evaluating and strategizing the best ways to leverage public space to support small businesses post-pandemic. The Fellow will be expected to:

  Evaluate ways in which public space supports local businesses

  Lead presentations, and interface with a broad range of stakeholders, including multiple public agencies, community groups and small business owners. 

  Evaluate commercial revitalization programs serving case study neighborhoods including but not limited to: merchant organizing and engagement, public space activation and management, and commercial district marketing and promotion

  Develop strategies for innovative programming, alignment and use of space to maximize the benefits, given the varying resources available to communities

  Consider how cultural and economic activities in public spaces in the different case study neighborhoods can accommodate the local population, local businesses and entrepreneurs, negotiating potential conflicting priorities and capitalizing on synergies. 

Candidates should have relevant work experience and/or a degree in urban design, landscape architecture, architecture, industrial design, or a related field. Preference will be given to candidates who have conducted research and developed projects related to commercial revitalization or have experience in place-based neighborhood development. Additionally, candidates should have significant experience writing about complex issues for a broad public audience; working directly with and presenting to clients (public-sector clients preferred); working on collaborative projects or in teams. 

Engagement Fellow

The Engagement Fellow is responsible for devising an inclusive stakeholder strategy to bring together community members, business owners, Program Partners and community groups to develop a shared vision, identify and prioritize needs and desired outcomes for plazas, public spaces and their neighboring commercial corridors. The Fellow will be expected to:

  Engage a broad range of stakeholders including developers and agencies to identify opportunities to create new or strengthen existing public space and to build relationships to facilitate community-desired outcome

  Support the Urban Policy & Design Fellows with research of the physical, demographic, economic, social, health and environmental characteristics of the study area and identifying data resources

  Plan and facilitate workshops and other types of engagement (tbd); lead presentations, and interface with a broad range of stakeholders, including multiple public agencies and community groups. 

  Develop strategies processes for the stewardship of various case study neighborhoods’ public space to navigate the longstanding residents, local community and businesses conflicting priorities

  Develop strategies and best practices for strong and consistent engagement of local storefront businesses and other stakeholders in public space stewardship

Candidates should have relevant work experience in community engagement or as an organizer and/or graduate-level degree in a relevant field, e.g. urban planning, public administration, sociology, or social work. Candidates should have worked on multidisciplinary projects related to neighborhood planning and community development, especially in under-resourced and diverse communities; have significant experience in stakeholder engagement and communicating complex issues for a broad public audience; working directly with and presenting to community audiences and working on collaborative projects or in teams. Fluency in Spanish or language other than English is a plus. 

Communications Fellow

The Communications Fellow will be responsible for developing the identity and graphic system for the project to effectively communicate and deploy design-thinking with diverse audiences throughout the process. The Fellow is expected to:

  Develop visual and multilingual tools for the community and stakeholder engagement process to encourage creative, meaningful, and diverse participation

  Develop outreach materials and support the project team with the visual presentation in workshops and meetings

  Use the project graphic system to refine and communicate the recommendations for use by a broad audience

  Collect and create neighborhood narratives for each of the 15 neighborhood case studies

  Collaborate closely with and support the Urban Policy, Design, and Engagement Fellows when creating pop-up activations, the toolkit, and designing the final project publication

Candidates should have relevant work experience and/or a degree in graphic design, video production or a related field. Preference will be given to candidates who have experience working in the public realm and at multiple scales, ranging from book design to way-finding. Additionally, candidates should have significant experience graphically communicating complex issues for a broad public audience; working directly with and presenting to clients (public-sector clients preferred); working on collaborative projects or in teams. 

Fellowship Benefits

Design Trust Fellows receive benefits that advance their immediate and long-term career growth. Participation in a Design Trust project gives Fellows the opportunity to explore an urban issue in-depth and make a tangible effect on New York City’s public realm.  Additional benefits include:

  Introductions to and opportunities for significant engagement with policymakers, community leaders, and professionals from other disciplines

  An honorarium of $15,000 for the full project work

  Participation in speaking engagements associated with the project or related topic (both Design Trust events and programs organized by peer organizations)

  Opportunities for recognition in local and national media coverage of the project

  Credit as a Design Trust Fellow for life, including:

o  Recognition on the Design Trust website with biographic information and the opportunity to highlight awards and latest news.

o  Inclusion of professional milestones in the Design Trust newsletter

o  Invitation to Fellows Forum events

  Honorary Membership in Design Trust Council, the leadership circle of the Design Trust for Public Space, for a year, including invitations to Design Trust Council events. For more information: 

How to Apply

Candidates should send a single PDF (maximum of 10 pages and 5 MB), including a cover letter specifying the Fellowship category they are applying for, a curriculum vitae, and a sample of relevant work to

DEADLINE EXTENDED! Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis until Sunday December 13, 2020 at 11:59pm.  

Interviews will be scheduled on a rolling basis.  Please note: candidates under consideration will be contacted by e-mail. No phone calls to Design Trust, please. 

Selected applicants should be available to begin work in December 2020 and remain available part-time through January 2022.

About the Design Trust for Public Space

Founded in 1995, Design Trust for Public Space (“Design Trust”), is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the future of public space in New York City, bringing together city agencies, community groups and private sector experts to make a lasting impact—through design—on how New Yorkers live, work and play.  Design Trust is at the forefront of shaping NYC's public realm from parks, plazas and streets to city buildings, transportation systems and neighborhoods throughout all five boroughs, developing equitable and vibrant public space through collaborative design. Learn more: 

About NYC Department of Small Business Services

NYC Department of Small Business Services (SBS) helps unlock economic potential and create economic security for all New Yorkers by connecting New Yorkers to good jobs, creating stronger businesses, and building vibrant neighborhoods across the five boroughs. For more information on all SBS services, go to, call 311, and follow us on Facebook,Twitter, and Instagram.

Special thanks to our Sponsors:

Alloy Development

Grand Central Partnership

Times Square Alliance