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Project Foundation
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Activating social and commercial value through meanwhile use

Our Purpose

The Covid-19 pandemic has pushed the issue of urban health and social equity to the top of city policy agendas. In response to the immediate needs of communities, we saw the rise of temporary public space programs around the world which contributed to positive health outcomes and built support for future projects in the recovery.1

Learning from this, we propose a process which seeks to improve urban health outcomes of existing communities using the concept of meanwhile use as a catalyst. By addressing existing community needs, during the meanwhile use of the site, placemakers can:

  • Bring much needed services and amenities to communities quickly
  • Provide opportunities for positive connections between real estate developers, landowners, investors and the community (including residents and local businesses) to inform the legacy use of the site
  • Create real social impact to support industry reputation and corporate ESG objectives, and
  • Generate interim income streams and stimulate local spend
We demonstrate this process through a case study of the East New York neighborhood in the context of the planned Interborough Express, which will connect many underserved communities within Queens and Brooklyn, New York.

The Pandemic and the Public Realm, ULI

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The City of New York’s Ten Year Capital Strategy and the Mayor’s Rebuild, Renew Reinvent: A Blueprint for New York’s Economic Recovery both highlight the city’s commitment towards equitable development processes and improving health outcomes within communities through the planning process and capital improvement projects.

NYC Policy

Ten Year Capital Strategy
  • Consider community perspectives in capital planning and decision-making.
  • Promote forward-looking, holistic capital planning that anticipates citywide and neighborhood needs of tomorrow.
  • Strengthen public health and safety.
  • Support growth and preserve affordability in our diverse neighborhoods.
Rebuild, Renew, Reinvent: A Blueprint for New York City’s Economic Recovery
  • Revive the city’s vitality and dynamism by activating public spaces.
  • Tackle public safety and quality of life concerns to strengthen corridors where New Yorkers live, work and play.
  • Accelerate and find efficiencies in the processes for building in New York City.
  • Invest equitably in neighborhood infrastructure.
  • Increase opportunities for low-cost housing in every neighborhood in New York City.

The Five Pillars of Urban Health

To define urban health, we reviewed and consolidated currently available research, beginning with the World Health Organization’s definition:

“Despite their challenges, cities can create opportunities for better health, cleaner environments and climate action. Strong urban policies must prioritize health, as it is essential for fostering good urban livelihoods, building a productive workforce, creating resilient and vibrant communities, enabling mobility, promoting social interaction and protecting vulnerable populations.”

– WHO Response to Urban Health

We then identified consistent urban health priorities in accordance with the scale of our intervention and with the intention of creating an immediate impact on the community. Our research focused on how we could add to the current discourse and is summarized in five pillars.

Streetscape Design

Increase mobility in the neighborhood

Hubs of Social Interaction

Engage and connect the community

Access to Healthy Food

Increase accessibility to quality, affordable, healthy food

Environmental Comfort

Control noise, pollutants, and sanitation within the neighborhood

Preventative Healthcare

Decrease avoidable hospitalizations through prevention and education

Meanwhile Use

Meanwhile use refers to the short-term use of temporarily empty buildings or vacant lots, to use them as an opportunity to help keep an area vibrant, and with purpose.

Another approach to deploying meanwhile use is during the time between land acquisition and the start of construction. This strategy gives placemakers the opportunity to engage with the community before permanent development comes to fruition. By starting a dialogue with the community early in the design process, we can begin to understand community needs directly, address them through meanwhile use, then incorporate the most successful aspects into the permanent development.

Junction Flea Market

Prior to breaking ground at DUKE – a new residential project in the Junction neighborhood of Toronto – impact-driven real estate developer, TAS hosted the Junction Flea Market and outdoor yoga classes. TAS found that facilitating these meanwhile use site activations while they worked through research, design and municipal approval processes fostered community connection and strengthened capacity building.

TAS is an unconventional impact company that uses real estate as a tool to drive profit and purpose.

Commercial Return

Meanwhile use brings life and activity to a site before long-term development begins. It provides opportunities for innovation, community engagement, employment, education, placemaking and stimulates local spend. It acts as a prototype of what could be permanently developed, providing a preview of it, as a place.

Commercial return can be realized with interim income streams generated from renting spaces to small businesses, and potential financial support and incentives from municipal organizations. However, the mid to long term benefits far exceed this potential alone.

By incorporating meanwhile use, we can more readily deliver a real social impact to support industry reputation and help meet environmental, social and governance objectives for, and with, our development partners. This increases the attractiveness of the development to investors, offers access to a larger pool of ESG savvy investors and equity partners, and provides commercial access to a broader range of consumer groups.

Moreover, meanwhile use builds engagement and trust with local communities. This positively informs the planning process and benefits the transition to a permanent development with greater local support.

Essentially, meanwhile use regenerates vacant underutilized spaces to activate both social and commercial value.

BDP Project Precedent



independent businesses


FTE jobs created, majority local to each site

$ 0 m

spend onsite and across
local town centers

$ 0 m

Gross Value Added (GVA) 
to London economy in new 
jobs and business investment

Engagement Process


the data


community needs


Engage the


interim use


interim use

Re-evaluate to inform long term development

Case Study

Our study closely examines the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s (MTA) Interborough Express (IBX) proposal, which is currently in an environmental review process. This transit initiative aims to repurpose an underutilized freight rail line, connecting multiple transit desert neighborhoods of Brooklyn and Queens to NYC’s existing subway system.

Major infrastructure projects provide opportunities for existing neighborhoods to grow and connect and if done properly, also provide opportunities for significant neighbourhood investment including providing new employment opportunities to local residents and support for existing local businesses.

Additionally, transit initiatives create an extensive period of disruption for the neighborhood they intend to serve. A development process that incorporates interim use during these disruptive years can mitigate some of the harmful impacts on the community.

“The Interborough Express is a transformative rapid transit project that would connect currently underserved areas of Brooklyn and Queens.”

– Metropolitan Transportation Authority


Understand the Data

There is a vast amount of existing data readily available through the City of New York’s open data site, as well as the public domain which can be used to gain a preliminary understanding of a neighborhood.

We identified the area within a 15 minute walking distance of the proposed IBX as these areas will be directly impacted by the capital project, both from the near term disruption due to construction and the long term from influx of anticipated new residents.

Base map

In selecting the neighborhood for our case study, we conducted a mapping analysis of the neighborhoods bordering the IBX using publicly available data. By identifying zones of greatest disparity within each map, we then overlayed the broad range of data to establish an understanding of communities that are facing hardship at multiple levels.

What We Learned

Through our macro-analysis, we identified that a group of communities at the intersection between Brooklyn and Queens face critical needs on multiple fronts.

East New York (Brooklyn Community District 5), is a neighborhood comprised predominantly of racial minorities. It has some of the highest crime rates in Brooklyn and 32% of its population live in poverty.

Years of neglected conditions have led to racial health disparities in the community’s population.

Life expectancy in East New York is

0 years

(NYC: 80.5 years)

Avoidable hospitalizations among adults

2167 per 100,000

(NYC: 1033 per 100,000)

% of population with obesity, diabetes, or hypertension

0 %

(NYC: 24%)

Life expectancy in East New York is

0 years

(NYC: 80.5 years)

Avoidable hospitalizations among adults

2167 per 100,000

(NYC: 1033 per 100,000)

% of population with obesity, diabetes, or hypertension

0 %

(NYC: 24%)

Life expectancy in East New York is

0 years

(NYC: 80.5 years)

Avoidable hospitalizations among adults

2167 per 100,000

(NYC: 1033 per 100,000)

% of population with obesity, diabetes, or hypertension

0 %

(NYC: 24%)

Life expectancy in East New York is

0 years

(NYC: 80.5 years)

Avoidable hospitalizations among adults

2167 per 100,000

(NYC: 1033 per 100,000)

% of population with obesity, diabetes, or hypertension

0 %

(NYC: 24%)


Identify Community Needs

To begin to gain an understanding of East New York, we first analyzed an annual report released by NYC Planning on specific community district needs. Through this report, we are able to determine the most pressing needs as determined by community boards of East New York, and find the right issues to target with our expertise. The second part of this section refers to a localized mapping analysis of health assets in the community, organized through the five subcategories of Urban Health.

Neighborhood Priorities

Land Use Trends
  • Major zoning changes and development underway
  • Affordable housing being provided
  • Lack of community engagement to inform larger developments and community benefits
  • ENY Urban Renewal Plan asks for community based approach to mixed-use businesses and ground floor to be rented to local businesses or cooperative work environments.
Healthcare Services
  • Lack of access to healthy food.
  • More than 50% of food establishments were bodegas – 135 bodegas, 71 fast food restaurants, 24 full service restaurants, 13 grocery stores, 12 specialty grocery stores, eight fruit and vegetable stores
  • High percentage of adults suffer from diabetes and 31% are obese
  • Incentives for local businesses to provide high quality healthy food
  • Support the connection between local gardens and farmers’ markets with grocery stores.
Trash Removal and Cleanliness
  • Bulk trash is an ongoing issue
  • Increase maintenance staff for public housing
  • Train maintenance staff
  • NYCHA trash collection services to coordinate pick up schedules and provide workshops and education on recycling.

Mapping Analysis

Zooming into the area of East New York within a 15 minute walk of the IBX corridor, our mapping analysis maps the general characteristics of the neighborhood, then breaks down the pillars of urban health. Our approach combined open-source data from NYC databases, Google Earth, and environmental agencies for noise and air pollution.

This provides a baseline understanding of the neighborhood that we can then use to support our dialogue with community organizations, and eventually inform the function of our meanwhile use.

Streetscape Design
Streetscape Design
Hubs of Social Interaction
Access to Healthy Food
Environmental Comfort
Preventative Healthcare


Engage the Community

It is the people of the neighborhood that can speak more deeply to the real and immediate needs of a community as well as how best to respond to those needs. We researched the many existing community organizations in East New York and selected those whose mission aligned most closely to our goals.

Community Organizations

Both East New York Restoration LDC and United Community Centers are working towards reducing health disparities, and also acts as hubs for youth leadership and community engagement. Youth empowerment, specifically through employment or job training, is imperative to ensuring long-term resiliency in the community.

Deeper community engagement is key for a successful process. UCC proposed that a series of focus groups made up of the various voices of the local community should be created with its own facilitation process, retained by the real estate developer to directly bring community voices to inform the design.

East New York Restoration is a driving force in the community to support small businesses with job creation and to provide local residents with entrepreneurial services. ENY Restoration also runs ‘health’ and ‘green’ courses for youth and the greater community, promoting environmental consciousness among youth through green skills and training.

United Community Centers is a multi-service, intergenerational organization that addresses East New York’s greatest challenges. UCC’s current initiatives are focused on health and wellbeing, including its large urban agriculture program, East New York Farms, which produces fresh produce for food pantries and farmers markets and its HIV prevention and sexual health program – Protecting the East. UCC has also operated an early childhood education program for more than 40 years serving children aged two to five in East New York.

What we heard

East New York Restorations

Van Siclen Avenue, directly adjacent to the proposed IBX corridor, is home to many local trades that are native to East New York. It is crucial that rezoning efforts around the IBX ensure the resiliency of East New York’s trades expertise, protecting local jobs in the midst of rapid economic growth in the region.

Parks that are born out of large-scale investments from the City like Linden Park are invaluable community assets that are active throughout the day. Key aspects of Linden Park’s success are its bright lights, as well as its capacity to host various recreational activities for all ages.

Community gardens, like Success Garden that ENY Restorations is involved in maintaining, are entirely run by volunteer organizations who employ youth through state or city funding. These placements are highly competitive to attain, as there are more children who wish to work than there are available positions.

United Community Centers

The planned lifetime of a temporary community garden correlates to how much investment and care it will receive. A minimum of 3–5 years of use needs to be secured for community organizations to install better hardware and cultivate a successful garden.

Foot traffic is limited in East New York due to limited lighting, sanitation, and a lack of commercial streets that draw people. Existing commercial hubs are also far in distance from each other, creating one-stop destinations that do not encourage mobility between other stores or streets.

Many people live in East New York for its low rent, but they work and play in other parts of the city. For local residents to return economic benefits back to East New York, creating more community events, social hubs, and vibrant commercial zones will encourage people to stay in the neighborhood.


Design Meanwhile Use

Based on the previous three steps, we envision working with real estate developers and the community (local residents and businesses) to design and deploy meanwhile uses. This includes the exploration of available sites, finalization of programmatic uses, research into local means for production, and configuration of the physical components on the site.

Select Site

The design of the meanwhile use will vary depending on the site condition. In an examination of available public sites within East New York, we have identified several common conditions.

Sites may be provided by a private landholder or developer, or through negotiations for publicly-owned vacant lands.

Occupied Lot

Existing building and interim use intervention types.

Vacant Lot

Interim use types based on adjacent context.

Identify Function

Based on the five pillars of urban health and the needs identified within the community, a catalog of functions is created that could be deployed across the neighborhood on the appropriate site.

This catalog is used to engage focus groups, local businesses and community leaders to select the most appropriate function for the selected site.


Modular timber frame construction is simple and accessible. It can be used to create multi-scale configurations that fit a variety of lot sizes and program needs. Simple timber structures also present opportunities for youth engagement.

As a demonstration, we have chosen a cubic form made from recycled timber or construction grade lumber.

Groups of the modular units can be arranged together in different ways to create large-scale build-outs with a sense of place. Each unit can hold its unique function, creating a hub of community resources.


Activate Meanwhile Use

The meanwhile use is used to build positive relationships between the community and the real estate developer, to help better understand existing community needs and to inform the future programming of the permanent development.

Once the meanwhile use has been activated, a feedback loop should be put in place with the surrounding community to monitor the success of the meanwhile use and continue to evolve and adjust the design to suit needs.

These vignettes describe some possible meanwhile use scenarios.

Existing Site: Pre-Meanwhile Use
Streetscape Design Meanwhile Use: Market
Hubs of Social Interaction Meanwhile Use: Summer Play
Access to Healthy Food Meanwhile Use: Community Garden
Environmental Comfort Meanwhile Use: Exercise
Preventative Healthcare Meanwhile Use: Health and Education

Long Term Use

Design and development teams have a pivotal role in shaping the built environment. By leveraging our proposed process, place-makers can take a broader view in identifying key needs to support a local neighborhood, and realize shared opportunities for growth and prosperity. These successful outcomes can be achieved through meanwhile use.

Our process demonstrates an approach for developers to increase the social value of the communities that they build for, increasing resilience, inclusivity and supporting urban health. We seek to explore this new ecosystem together with real estate developers, community stakeholders, public benefit corporations, and local residents in the hope that this work will set the foundations for mutually-beneficial developments that contribute to successful businesses and healthy, equitable communities.

Our expertise

Our unique position as a multidisciplinary collective with experts spanning the spectrum of the built environment speaks to our collaborative, problem solving strengths and capability in the design world.

We are placemakers who work at every scale; from bespoke light sculptures to entirely new cities. We are passionate about the role of design to improve everyday life.

We are committed to inclusion and wellbeing in the built environment and believe that inclusive design and its process is fundamental to creating spaces for everyone.

When we design, we do so with the full range of human diversity in mind, enabling a complete spectrum of participation in all aspects of society.

Our commitment to inclusion is demonstrated through our consultancy, Human Space, a global collaborative of experts dedicated to this cause.

Get in Touch

Have a real site of interest? Keen to learn more about our work? We would love to learn and receive your comments!


On Circularity

To build strong, resilient communities requires continuous listening to the needs of local people from pre-design through to post-occupancy. This could take the form of a post-occupancy survey or a town hall meeting. We see this as a circular design and communication process where the research and engagement strengthen the design, the design strengthens the community, and the community continues to inform and strengthen the design. This is a living process, inherently malleable and circular, based on close collaboration and cooperation. We invite you to give feedback on our process and join us on the journey toward building stronger, more resilient places for communities to thrive.

Back to the beginning.