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In May, our team at City Open Workshop and Latent Design opted to partner on the first City Open Summer session on Open Living. We felt that around Chicago, small businesses and neighborhood corridors needed advising and technical assistance to react and adapt to COVID-19. Cities such as Tampa, Vilnius and the State of Connecticut had all enacted rapid measures to provide open space for restaurant and small business expansion and we hoped to use City Open as that forum and community of planners and designers to help. 

How might we support restaurant and small business owners with design and planning resources to re-open to customers while honoring safe distancing practices and adhering to city guidelines? 

City Open created a partnership with the Illinois Restaurant Association to create a Designer Directory page with 14 architecture firms in the Chicago region who could offer consultations to restaurants in need of retrofitting their spaces in light of the State of Illinois Phase 1-5 plan of re-opening. Starting in June, City Open also offered virtual office hours twice a week for restaurant consultations. 

On August 6th, a team from City Open including designers representing Latent Design, Aria Group Architects and Sam Schwartz Engineering presented a webinar on restaurant re-opening and retrofits to the Illinois Restaurant Association community. 

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Summer 2020

Core team:

Abigail Fiala, SmithGroup

Brett Weidl, Smithgroup

Eli Lechter, Ratio

Elizabeth Kozlik, Aria Group Architects

Elle Ramel, City Open Workshop

Ian Miley, Worn Jerabek Wilsea Architects

Joe Vajda, Aria Group Architects

John Gross, Kimley-Horn

Katherine Darnstadt, Latent Design

Fran Xavier, Latent Design

Navjot Heer, Latent Design

Lis Battle, Aria Group Architects

Mark Lawrence, Wyzendale

Stacey Meekins, Sam Schwartz Engineering

Partner Organization:

The Illinois Restaurant Association

Participating Community Organizations:

Edgewater Chamber of Commerce
Lakeview East Chamber of Commerce
Little Village Chamber of Commerce
Northwest Side Economic Development Corporation
West Central Association

Thank you to our partners:

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Engagement with the Little Village Chamber of Commerce and other Chambers:


Working with Little Village Chamber of Commerce, City Open and the Latent Design team reinvigorated a recently completed corridor plan for 26th Street. The previous design plan focused on the creation of “placitas” or small plazas, on select side streets off of 26th that had wide sidewalks, unmetered parking, or adjacent flexible open spaces such as parking lots or vacant lots. There was also a proposal to create a “mercadito”, or small market, on the existing Perez Plaza on the western end of the 26th Street corridor. Ultimately, the plaza market was selected as a location that could build momentum over time to become a fully realized public space that can accommodate both current activities while maintaining its place of contemplation as a memorial.  By the end of the summer, a small informal market has been established and funding opportunities are being pursued by the Chamber, Alderman, and City Open team.


IMAGE: Proposed Mercadito Stall in Perez Plaza by Latent Design (click for full diagram)

Restaurant Resource Guide to Re-Opening:


City Open Workshop brought together participating designers in Illinois Restaurant Association office hours as they worked to answer questions for local restaurants each week. This group ultimately coalesced into the core team members listed top right of this page that agreed on the need to create a restaurant resource guide for re-opening for restaurants and chambers of commerce as a pattern of similar questions emerged week to week. 


The group created responses and links to commonly answered questions and also elevated issues that required images or infographics to better understand how to set up a tent, sidewalk cafe permitting and parklets for example. Each firm worked on creating images that can be seen below. 


The final guide is available for download as PDF and can also be printed and displayed at local chambers if there is interest and the need. 

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Next Steps:


City Open hosted its final summer session on July 22nd and led the group in a reflection about what would be the next steps. COVID-19 is still present in Illinois and restaurants will continue to work on remaining flexible and staying solvent. The group discussed the following for future exploration:


  • The need for city and state-wide policy recommendations issued from learnings from the City Open Workshop working group including corridor funding, street furniture, and expedited permitting

  • Expansion of open living re-opening to small businesses, fitness establishments and cultural centers

  • The future of these outdoor dining solutions in the fall and winter- as seen in cities such as Minneapolis and Switzerland, many of these practices could be winterized

  • Multilingual guides and engagement

  • Tour of chambers, SSAs, and suburban governments with our findings and offers of assistance

  • A more robust Designers Network that could be activated by the government in future moments that mirror the effect of COVID-19 in small business. 


Please download the Restaurant Reopening Resource Guide to share with planners, chambers of commerce and small businesses to navigate the design and permit challenges they may face in re-opening restaurants. 


You can also investigate our Designer Directory and additional resources for those with questions around design and COVID-19. 

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