CannonDesign’s Open Hand Studio was recently awarded the 50th Anniversary Volunteer of the Year Award from the Neighborhood Design Center (NDC) for its community planning work in Baltimore. The NDC is a nonprofit organization that facilitates the development of healthy, equitable neighborhoods through community-engaged design and planning services. They provide the tools, expertise and partnerships necessary to realize healthy futures for neighborhoods.

Our nine-person team worked to develop a two-tiered publication of guidelines for the community’s Pennsylvania Avenue corridor by combining two separate, but inherently related NDC projects—one for streetscapes and another for storefronts. The street would be reimagined as a revitalization of its past glory, celebrating its history as an entertainment district and jazz epicenter; it would also be designed to support and enable smart economic growth for business owners, homeowners and residents.

The final document includes a breakdown of the design process, detailing the various stages of research, surveying, visioning, discussions, and prioritization. Each community’s leaders welcomed the Open Hand Studio team to present at a few of their monthly meetings. The community-driven approach put the neighbors and stakeholders who know their neighborhoods the best at the center of the goal-setting conversations.

Formal storefront guidelines include detailed recommendations for the many facets of streetscape and storefront design, from signage and lighting to outdoor murals and security gates. Streetscape guidelines cover things like crosswalks, sidewalks, curbs, vegetation and community space.

Once implemented and enforced, these guidelines encourage an improved quality of life, an economic boost to business, higher property values for property owners, and overall beautification. The project’s community-driven discussion further promotes the social equity that is important to successful neighborhood development—a hallmark of the Open Hand Studio experience.

NDC stakeholders were impressed with the outcome and all the hard work put into this report, especially that a rookie team was able to take on and manage these two projects at once while not sacrificing quality. Thank you to all the stakeholders and residents who met with us to discuss Pennsylvania Avenue’s neighborhoods, and thank you to the NDC for this wonderful honor!

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