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.

Read Neighborhood Commons Toolkit of Recommendations to Support Public Spaces in Commercial Corridors at:

The COVID-19 pandemic has illuminated, more than ever before, the unique and key role that small businesses play in the livelihood of our neighborhoods and public spaces. 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. 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.


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 model 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”).

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,  Uptown Grand Central and the Harvard Loeb Fellows. 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 this 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.

Read the Policy Recommendations | Explore the Neighborhood Commons Pilot Projects

Key Milestones

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Launch Neighborhood Commons + Call for Fellows

November 2020

Launch Neighborhood Commons: Plazas, Sidewalks and Beyond with a press release and call for Fellows.

Convene Neighborhood Commons Advisory Committee

December 2020

Our advisory committee (in formation) is made up of leaders from the public and private sector groups, including the Association for a Better New York, Bronx Night Market, Center for an Urban Future, Merchants of Third Avenue Bay Ridge, NYC Department of Transportation, NYC Mayor's Office for People with Disabilities, WHEDco, and the Street Vendor Project, among others.

Select Fellows

December 2020

Design Trust for Public Space will award four fellowships for Neighborhood Commons in policy, design, engagement and communications.

Research and analyze 10 - 15 case study neighborhoods

March 2021

The Design Trust team will engage with organizations, businesses, and local residents in multiple neighborhoods to assess and analyze how best to leverage public space to support local economies.

Publication of toolkit recommendations

February 2022

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.

Develop two pilot projects

June 2022

Two pilot projects will be developed to test out recommendations. Explore the Neighborhood Commons Pilot Projects!