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Pandemic Toolkit Manual for rebuilding community health & opportunity post-COVID

This Pandemic Toolkit is a distillation of an ongoing, crowd-sourced compilation of reality-tested strategies to help local and regional governments respond to challenges imposed by COVID-19, but also to help become more resilient in the face of future pandemics. The Toolkit is organized by action steps related to regulatory policy, planning, and community design. It prioritizes expedient implementation in short to long-term time frames, for evolving best practices in planning for cities, towns, and suburbs.

1. Prioritize equity and justice.

POLICY via municipal, provincial, and state governments

Consider tools such as PHEAL: Planning for Health, Equity, Advocacy and Leadership, a policy platform to reaffirm the imperative need for public health and design professionals to work together to foster an environment of synergy with the purpose of empowering and elevating the voices of historically overburdened communities with health inequities in the time of COVID-19.

2. Enable outdoor dining.

ZONING AND POLICY: Code amendment and application and/or council action

Many communities prohibit the use of the public rights-of-way and parks. Others allow it through permitting and fees. And some communities have established processes that even permit the use of parking lanes, travel lanes, and public parks for dining.

Interventions

Develop a COVID-19 Temporary Patio Registration Form that covers: general safety requirements; ROW requirements for expansion into sidewalk, parking lane, travel lane and/or park; insurance; indemnity; deductibles; reduced parking regs; winter requirements for heaters, shelter, and snow clearing OR draft a council proclamation to allow this without application or fees, clearly stating rules and indemnification.

Most communities have become adept at fair-weather outdoor dining in 2020, but creative thinking is required for dining alfresco in winter. As inspiration, RAW:Almond hosts a pop-up winter restaurant on or near the frozen Assiniboine and Red Rivers, in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, one of the three coldest cities with a population of 800,000 or higher. For seven out of the last eight years, the restaurant evolves with a new design and roster of chefs, thanks co-founders, chef Mandel Hitzer and designer Joe Kalturnyk, along with engineer Jon Reid. Images: Raw Almond copyright 2013, 2015, 2016. Full Winnipeg gallery along with RAW pop-ups in Tokyo as well as other Manitoba communities of Churchill, Gimli, and Wasagaming is at RAW:Almond. While the pop-up is on hold for winter 2020 due to COVID, deer + almond is a model for physically-distanced but socially-connected dining.

3. Develop outdoor café design guidelines.

POLICY via design guidelines and application

Further expedite the permitting process to enable outdoor dining for restaurants with design regulations. This is particularly important for winter cities, towns, and suburbs where restaurateurs need assistance with environmental controls.

4. Enable outdoor shopping, learning, and places of worship.

ZONING via permitting update and/or council action

Considerations for the use of the public right-of-way include liability issues for local government and business and a clear path for pedestrians. These barriers to the use of the sidewalk, parking lanes, travel lanes, and parkland often inhibit its use for anything other than walking and dining.

Interventions

Develop a COVID-19 Temporary Public Space Registration Form that covers: general safety requirements; ROW permits; insurance; indemnity; deductibles; reduced parking regs; winter regs (shelter; heaters; snow removal) OR draft a council proclamation to allow this without application or fees, clearly stating rules and indemnification.

5. Allow in-home occupation.

ZONING via code amendment

Many local governments have some types of home business permitted, but often with limitations on the number of employees along with high parking requirements and restricted signage.

Interventions

Allow in-home occupation to enable work-from-home without permitting. Reassess area restrictions in existing regulations to accommodate social distancing requirements.

6. Allow Accessory Dwelling Units.

ZONING via code amendment

Many communities have permitted accessory dwellings associated with primary dwellings, but the restrictions are frequently made unusable through setbacks, parking, and ownership restrictions. The pandemic economy requires every means possible to increase household income, and accessory dwelling units (ADUs) are an opportunity to leverage the average household's greatest asset. ADUs provide access to additional income for homeowners and allows renters to access affordable housing during constrained economic conditions due to the pandemic.

Interventions

Readdress ADU parking requirements; size restrictions; setback restrictions; and ownership occupation requirements.

7. Allow Accessory Commercial Units.

ZONING via code amendment

Accessory commercial units (ACUs) allow homeowners to access additional income and allows renters to access affordable commercial space within neighborhoods, which are increasingly becoming job centers during pandemic conditions. These must be carefully located based upon multi-modal traffic patterns and street types.

Interventions

Revise regulations to permit mixed-use; reduce front setbacks if on-street parking exists; require sidewalk minimum widths where possible; reduce parking requirements for small commercial spaces.

8. Enable pop-up bicycle lanes.

DESIGN MANUAL via text edit

Enable active transportation with physical distancing to support well-being and reductions in greenhouse gasses and particulates.

Interventions

Provide expedited pop-up bicycle lane process.

9. Expedite temporary uses.

ZONING via code amendment and application

Many local governments have laborious, time-consuming processes for temporary use permits. To assist with economic recovery, these permitting processes should be simplified.

Interventions

Simplify application process for temporary uses, including pop-up retail, pop-up services, community gardens and greenhouses on undeveloped or underused lots OR allow these temporary uses by right as long as the user has a written agreement on file from the landowner.

10. Increase availability and access to nature.

ZONING via code amendment and application

Socially distanced gatherings outdoors are proven to be safer than indoors, and parks and open spaces have become a safe haven in the time of the pandemic. Additionally, access to nature is proven to have healing properties and positive health impacts and should be prioritized to assist with pandemic recovery. In addition to the expedited temporary uses of gardens and greenhouses, additional park land should be prioritized.

Interventions

Institute public access agreements with school boards to make school land available for park use when school is not in session. Acquire small plots of vacant land for pocket parks. Adopt as a principle that everyone should have a park within a 10-minute walk. Institute a community volunteer tree stewardship program, which may include planting, pruning, mulching and watering of street, park and school trees.

11. Create open streets.

POLICY via policy statement and administration

Open a network of streets prioritizing bicycles, scooters, wheelchairs, runners, walkers, with car access limited to one block from 8am-8pm. Many communities around the world have converted streets to prioritize active transportation modes during the pandemic. This is proving to be very effective and some cities are considering a permanent conversion. Mike Lydon of Street Plans tracks over 60 communities globally who have developed open streets.

Keeping open streets - often called COVID-streets - open and healthy through the winter will take design adjustments, permitting skating, skiing, sledding, fat biking, and walking trails through the most walkable parts of the city. As long as people are moving, they are more likely to keep warm enough to be outside. Walkability mitigates the most extreme climates by providing interesting places to warm up, linger, and connect. Open streets in winter cities should be walkable and bikeable, but also skiable, sledable, or skateable. And playful. Warming Huts: An Art + Architecture Competition on Ice has been upping the ante on the Assiniboine and Red Rivers through the active core, since 2009.

12. Implement the U.S. National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) Streets for Pandemic Response and Recovery.

POLICY, DESIGN MANUAL, ZONING via policy, code amendment, and application

Street should be repurposed based upon the pandemic phase. 1) stay-at-home orders are in place; 2) pre-vaccine phased reopening; or 3) post-vaccine. Many of the other specific items in this toolkit help implement the NACTO guide.

13. Reconsider legacy rules on the number of unrelated persons who can live in a home or apartment.

ZONING via government action

Possibly the most prevalent barrier to shared housing, these limits were originally passed when this criterion was taken as evidence of criminal behavior. This regulation contributes to systemic prejudice and does not acknowledge the gig economy and sharing trends that are prevalent in younger generations.

Interventions

Assess restrictions on unrelated persons in current ordinances and by-laws.

14. Contract with community based organizations to provide early warnings of health threatening activities.

PUBLIC PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP via community organization

Similar to community policing, this partnership democratizes a necessary public function and distributes it to the community level.

15. Develop a community engagement strategy.

POLICY via coaching and organization of tools

COVID-19 communications strategies should not be all about emulating pre-COVID methods, but enabling a new normal, informed by how it worked when we could be together closely. Governments and individuals are quickly transitioning to virtual engagement, but care must be given to assure it is inclusive.

Interventions

Many government meetings have shifted to virtual solutions, and while this is resulting in higher participation numbers in many places, care must be given to provide dial-in numbers for those without access to broadband, taking surveys to the sidewalks as well as to cyberspace. Language interpretation is a challenge in a virtual environment, and areas with English as a second language residents must carefully provide for their access.

16. Develop a tiny home code.

ZONING via new zoning district

In addition to accessory dwelling units (ADUs), a tiny home code further expands small scale residential and can enlarge the affordable housing stock during a time of economic crisis.

Interventions

Assess and revise area minimums for residences; assess and revise foundation requirements in regulations.

17. Implement a marketing campaign about how "gentle density" looks and how it can support a range of people during times of crisis.

POLICY via municipal government

Address inaccurate correlations between density and virus spread. Help visualize density, like the dwelling units per acre pictured above, as modified for context-sensitive local character.

18. Enable mixed use and update the zoning map.

ZONING via rezoning and code amendment

Many small businesses may not make it through the pandemic lockdowns and slowdowns. To prepare for change while mitigating losses to the tax base, diversify uses particularly on commercial corridors and in neighborhood centers.

Mixed-use zoning districts allow either vertical mixed-use or horizontal mixed-use to occur on any lot in the district, so that uses can change without a rezoning, saving time and money for the tenants and landlords. This in turn helps municipal budgets be more resilient when reinvention of existing businesses occur, or when new businesses and residents arrive. This mixture of compatible use allows live-work and work-live, and may allow clean, quiet artisanal manufacturing and makerspace.

19. Develop a pandemic preparedness plan.

POLICY via comprehensive plan

Consider additional tools available on PlaceMakers Pandemic Response Compendium, a growing collection of crowd-sourced resources that inform the Toolkit, including case studies of how local governments are beginning to implement many of these actions. The compendium provides further guidance on timeframes for each action (pre-vaccine, post-vaccine, or long-term), as well as the scale of the intervention (block / street / building; neighborhood / district / corridor; or region), category of each action (engage, dine, shop, learn, rest, work, dwell), and examples of best practices from the cities and towns who are enacting a similar pandemic response with links to their work in progress.

A local pandemic preparedness plan is a policy document that should follow the 18 more expedient actions listed above. After these initial measures are implemented to support community health and the local economy, additional more complex ideas should be added:

  • An economic development action plan is an essential component of a pandemic preparedness plan, to rebuild local and regional economies as quickly and as safely as possible. Develop strategies, initiatives, and funding sources to rebuild and strengthen the economy by promoting walkable, compact (but not crowded), complete, connected and convivial places that the market values, and that are easier on the environment and promote strong social connections even during required pre-vaccine physical distancing. Place-based economic development strategies that are holistic in nature deliver significant returns to people, the planet, and profit.
  • Housing initiatives that require purchasing of lands and structures by government, nonprofits such as landbanks, or public private partnerships belong in a pandemic plan. This may include purchase or rental of vacant hotels or train cars as temporary homeless shelters, or purchase of pandemic-priced land for future affordable housing.
  • The pandemic plan should measure the effectiveness of many safeguards already put in place or add constraints at the direction of the local public health officers, such as temporal distancing to go with physical distancing: staggered work hours; public exercise and shopping hours blocked out for seniors; staggered hours at schools and government offices to flatten the rush-hour curve, reducing crowding on transit and traffic on roads; freight dropped off and garbage picked up at night.

20. Develop and steward a Business Innovation Grant (BIG) to support businesses transitioning to pandemic-resilient models.

PUBLIC PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP via all levels of government

Grants and funding could support businesses in their purchasing of PPE, to adhere to health guidelines, to develop temporary/permanent patios, or to transition to a virtual workforce or e-commerce platforms.

21. Provide a lifeline package of broadband services.

PUBLIC PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP via council direction and budget amendment + negotiated services from franchised utilities

Necessary for home-based work; in some areas new or expanded service not available at any price

22. Develop a data dashboard to track and monitor pandemic data.

MEASURE via local governments

Understanding where pandemic transmission has happened can help cities in identify areas requiring intervention. Maintain site functionality for long-term pandemic preparedness.

Need insights on how all this is going to help?

Want to know how connected communities and urban form pays back to health, safety, welfare, and the environment? Code Score does just that, as it consolidates 135 peer reviewed studies that make the link.

Authors

With special thanks to everyone who has contributed to the PlaceMakers Pandemic Response Compendium.

Photo Credits

Grateful to these photographers who kindly donated their viewpoints to illustrate the ideas in this toolkit:

Cover: New York, New York, Adobe Stock, 2020

1. Prioritize equity and justice. Venice, Italy; ©Hazel Borys, 2014

2. Enable outdoor dining. Portland, Oregon; ©Hazel Borys, 2015; Winnipeg, Manitoba; © RAW:Almond, 2013, 2015, 2016

3. Develop outdoor café design guidelines. Berlin, Germany ©Hazel Borys, 2014

4. Enable outdoor shopping, learning, and places of worship. Beuvron-en-Auge, Normandy, ©Hazel Borys, 2016

5. Allow in-home occupation. Los Poblanos Historic Inn and Organic Farm, Albuquerque, New Mexico; ©Hazel Borys, 2014

6. Allow Accessory Dwelling Units. Habersham, South Carolina; ©Andrew von Maur, 2004

7. Allow Accessory Commercial Units. Portland, Oregon; ©Steve Mouzon, 2020

8. Enable pop-up bicycle lanes. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; ©Miguel de Guzman, PhilStar, 2020

9. Expedite temporary uses. Layfayette Greens, Detroit, Michigan; copyright Hazel Borys, 2018

10. Increase availability and access to community nature. Winnipeg, Manitoba; ©Hazel Borys, 2017

11. Create open streets. Winnipeg, Manitoba; ©Hazel Borys, 2015, 2019, 2020

12. Implement the U.S. National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) Streets for Pandemic Response and Recovery. NACTO Streets for Pandemic Response and Recovery, Pages 22, 26, 28, 2020

13. Reconsider legacy rules on the number of unrelated persons who can live in a home or apartment. Mesquite, Las Cruces, New Mexico; ©Andrew von Maur and PlaceMakers, 2013

14. Contract with community based organizations to provide early warnings of health threatening activities. image: 5D Media via Adobe Stock, 2020

15. Develop a community engagement strategy. Various cities; ©PlaceMakers, LLC, 2016, 2017, 2018

16. Develop a tiny home code. Portland, Oregon; ©Steve Mouzon, 2020

17. Implement a marketing campaign about how "gentle density" looks and how it can support a range of people during times of crisis. ©DPZ, LLC and PlaceMakers, LLC, 2017

18. Enable mixed use and update the zoning map. Mesilla, Las Cruces, New Mexico; ©Andrew von Maur and PlaceMakers, LLC, 2013; illustration: ©Howard Blackson and PlaceMakers, LLC, 2013

19. Develop a pandemic preparedness plan. Paris, France; ©Hazel Borys, 2016

20. Develop and steward a Business Innovation Grant (BIG) to support businesses transitioning to pandemic-resilient models. Wilmington, North Carolina; ©Andrew von Maur and PlaceMakers, LLC, 2012

21. Provide a lifeline package of broadband services. Broadband internet solutions; CC BY-SA 4.0 credit: Wikimedia Commons user: Tmthetom

22. Develop a data dashboard to track and monitor pandemic data. Berlin, Germany; ©Hazel Borys 2013

Authors and Photo Credits image: Lilac Street, Winnipeg, Manitoba; image: ©Hazel Borys, 2020