Innovation – Community Outreach

Innovation – Community Outreach


Congratulations to SmithGroup and Uptown United as the winner of the 2020 Innovation Real Award in Community Outreach.

The pandemic brought unimaginable hardships to businesses everywhere. Chicago’s north side Uptown neighborhood, centered around Argyle Avenue and Broadway Street, is such an example. Much of its business district is made up of small, family-run restaurants and shops. As public health officials implemented safety protocols to control the spread of the virus, Uptown’s businesses were faced with weeks-long closures followed by new social distancing regulations that resulted in a precipitous drop in business. A “rapid-response design” for Uptown’s streetscapes provided the flexibility for businesses to resume operations and for the City of Chicago to permit an innovative way of using the public right-of-way.

SmithGroup’s volunteer team collaborated with the Uptown Chamber of Commerce to study two significant commercial corridors, engage business owners to discover their needs, and proactively strategize with local Chicago agencies to develop a new and innovative permitting program. This program allows local businesses to continue operating in a more adaptive and flexible way, given the pandemic. SmithGroup started by creating an engagement survey to gauge interest and preferences amongst a diverse collection of small businesses. The Design team walked the corridors, spoke with business owners, and solicited feedback to better understand the unique needs and desires of each establishment. The team realized that no “one size fits all” solution would work; each business had unique functional needs. For example, some would benefit from additional outdoor space for their customers, others preferred a curbside pick-up zone for take-out food orders, and some prioritized parking for their patrons. To maintain essential vehicular access needed to accommodate diverse uses, businesses stressed the importance of keeping Argyle and North Broadway streets open to vehicular use.

With the input received, SmithGroup created site plans incorporating a continuously open vehicular way while utilizing existing parking lanes to feature expanded sidewalk dining, shared seating zones, sidewalk sale areas, and loading zones. All dining tables and chares are spaced six feet apart to allow for adequate physical distancing, while generous pedestrian thoroughfare zones are provided for comfortable and safe access and circulation.

The streetscape plan provides a menu of options, allowing each business to select elements that best serve their operations. By re-envisioning uses within the public right-of-way, the plan demonstrates how flexibility empowers communities to implement a tailored solution. Until presented with a palette of options, many business owners had no idea streetscape changes were possible. The plan presents possibilities for City officials to help its communities while adhering to municipal codes and safety regulations. The culmination of the work introduced “Make Way for Dining,” the new permit program for the City of Chicago.

Project Team:

  • SmithGroup
  • Uptown United