Photo: Restorative Ground Meghan Marin/WIP Collaborative. Logo by MTWTF.

The Design Trust, Verona Carpenter Architects, WIP Collaborative, and a network of disability advocates have partnered on a new initiative to reimagine New York City public spaces — streets, playgrounds, plazas, and more —  to better support neurodiversity

Neurodiversity is the diversity of human minds, the infinite variation in brain functioning that exists in our world. Neurodivergent people – including people with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyspraxia, dyslexia, intellectual disabilities, and mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, and PTSD – are often excluded from public space access because the planning and construction of our communities does not take into account the cognitive, sensory, and social variation inherent in our neurodiverse world. Public spaces are only accessible if they can be meaningfully used by the full range of the public. The Neurodiverse City seeks to learn from the experience and knowledge of neurodivergent self-advocates by building a broad-based coalition of partners, identifying ways to quantify and qualify neuroinclusive space, and proposing meaningful policy change in key areas where these ideas can be scaled and broadened. 

WIP Collaborative, a shared feminist practice of independent design professionals, Verona Carpenter Architects, a full service architecture and interiors firm, and the Design Trust will serve as the project co-leads, working with community partners to shepherd the initiative, including the Center for Independence of the Disabled-NY and INCLUDEnyc. The project will be guided by an Advisory Committee of neurodivergent stakeholders, self-advocates and community leaders. This project is a winner of the Design Trust’s latest Request for Proposals, The Restorative City, themed around building community wellness through public space.

Key Milestones

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Coalition Formation

April 2023

The team will assemble and convene the Advisory Committee to establish the methodologies and workplan. Key meetings with City agency leads will be established.

Neurodiversity Team presents at the Design Trust Restorative City Convening 

Workshops and Sensory Audits

October 2023

The team will host two internal workshops and several public events to create a survey of existing public space typologies in New York City. The workshops will focus on reviewing literature, public engagement, and other progress to date. The Community Partners will connect the team to neurodivergent stakeholders, self-advocates, and their families, who will assist in the creation of a series of sensory audits to evaluate existing public spaces, documenting and recording stakeholder observations.
Process image from WIP Collaborative & VCA

Research Scan and Policy Briefs

January 2024

The team will review a range of applicable literature, from gray sources to peer-reviewed publications, to build a more comprehensive understanding of neurodiversity and design through the lenses of neuroscience, occupational therapy, psychiatry, urban design, architecture, user-experience design, technology, and public policy. The team will identify and create policy briefs that identify a system (such as a City agency, rule-making body, or public institution) that can accommodate change, the strategies to achieve that change, and key next steps to do so. 
Sean Ahlquist, SensoryPlayscape

Public Event

March 2024

The team will host a public event to share the research and work to date. It will celebrate the processes and community building while also gathering feedback and honing in on potential new outcomes. The event will include the release of a preliminary research report.

Verona Carpenter + W.I.P. Collaborative | 9.17.21

Beyond Phase 1

April 2024

Stay tuned for updates on phase 2 of the project including prototypes, pilot testing, and policy advocacy

Process image from WIP Collaborative of Restorative Ground modules, Participatory Pin-up with Summertime Gallery artists (WIP + Design Advocates)