Virginia is starting to reopen, but this effort has some small business owners scratching their heads about the practical realities of navigating each phase of the governor’s plan. In an initiative called OpenNorfolk, Work Program Architects (WPA) is teaming with the City of Norfolk and the Downtown Norfolk Council, as well national tactical urbanism leaders at Team Better Block and Yard & Co. to develop a tool kit to help restaurants and small retail businesses reopen safely with increased outdoor space.

From Paris to Milan, from Lima to Seattle, cities are implementing “Stay Healthy Streets,” closed to through-traffic, pop-up bike lanes called “coronapistes,” “Gastro-Safe Zones” to separate walkers from diners, and even maze-like walking routes separated by three-foot hedges.

Back in Norfolk, the team is taking these international strategies to another level, by offering individual, in-the-field assistance to small businesses as they take steps to reopen. Custom-designed signage is being delivered to restaurants and is available to download for those wanting to DIY. Outdoor furniture, parklets, string lights and festive pennants are being delivered to those restaurants in need of additional assistance. WPA and their collaborators worked with the City of Norfolk, the Virginia Department of Health, and the Virginia ABC to design a program that meets all guidelines and allows restaurants and bars to open in their parking lots, on city sidewalks, or in on-street parking spaces. Solutions prioritize equity across the City, maximizing existing green spaces and looking for new opportunities, particularly in hard-hit neighborhoods.

Restaurant seating spills outdoors, with tables spaced at appropriate distances, and take-out/pickup zones clearly marked on commercial corridors. Online booking and reservations are best practices, and diners are encouraged to bring their own silverware to reduce waste that would otherwise come with disposable products. Retail businesses are encouraged to wear masks, limit the number of people inside their establishments, and “do your part and stay 6-feet apart!”

“I am so very grateful to have this type of support. The timing could not be better. I had reached my end, about to throw in the towel…then to have this, it’s like a dream. You can not imagine how truly grateful I am.”

Beverly, Owner of Croaker’s Spot

The next phase of OpenNorfolk, designed by Yard + Co., is a proactive system for reopening businesses and their districts that can ebb and flow with Governor’s orders based on health data. And, importantly, it was developed from the start to connect with people on their own turf, with a particular focus on vulnerable or isolated neighbors. It allows businesses to choose where they are in the recovery and reopening phase and clearly communicate that phase and what it means to their customers. In neighborhood streets, parks and trails, and the public realm, this next phase provides people opportunities to resume life while respecting social distance. Some examples seem a return to former eras; imagine watching a drive-in movie from the top of a parking deck, or going to a drive-in diner. In some cases, the solutions feel futuristic; imagine dining in a private outdoor glass “house,” a strategy already being tested in Amsterdam.

Plans have the support of all city agencies, including Neighborhood Development and Public Safety, as well as a city-wide corps of volunteers. While the WPA/Better Block/Yard & Co. team builds parklets for sitting or play, and designs and installs new street markings and wayfinding signs, volunteers will distribute and hang signage, paint parklets, and paint stencils onto the sidewalks and new multiuse paths.

WPA principals Mel Price, AIA and Thom White, AIA shared an overview of the program and tool kit to help small businesses reopen. The program will continue to evolve.