From the Ground Up

It is apparent to anyone walking the streets of New York how much the city has lost as a result of the pandemic. This is most striking on the street level, where once bustling storefronts are scarred with ‘For Rent’ signs or boarded windows, and previously vibrant neighborhoods are devoid of the energy that once fueled the city.

But with this challenge comes the opportunity to rebuild New York City, and cities around the world, better than before. Spectorgroup, whose own NYC offices sit on the second floor of 34th Street and Madison Avenue, challenged its employees to take this opportunity to reimagine the city we call home to inspire and energize others. If anything, the pandemic has forced everyone to reconsider the values that as a society we may have taken for granted. Our design and creativity are inspired by these values, focusing on wellness, sustainability, connectivity and community, supporting local economies and the way we work.

It’s time to reimagine New York City’s neighborhoods – from the ground up.

Connectivity from the Ground Up

New York City has a history of making opportunities out of economically depressed times. Back in the 1970s when the city was facing economic hardship city services were in decline, derelict buildings were being torn down leaving abandoned lots to blighted neighborhoods. Citizens came together to create groups like the Green Guerillas who started to develop community gardens across city neighborhoods. These community gardens helped communities build connections within their neighborhoods while at the same time beautify their neighborhoods with nature. We have this same opportunity to look at the ground floor of our city in a new and exciting way as we begin to recover from the effects of this global pandemic.



New York’s grid system is a pillar of city planning efficiency but has long been victims of congestion, and many streets have become utilitarian.

Empty storefronts offer an opportunity for us to redirect the lives of pedestrians and bikers around a life of car horns and grid lock.

We will also create spaces in which the community may come together and learn and grow alongside each other, by turning institutions like libraries and community centers into hyperlocal spaces for enhanced learning and engagement.

Sustainability from the Ground Up

Our communities need to be sustainable if they are going to have the resiliency to withstand future shocks. Building more, local sustainable resources can provide that safety net.


Empty storefronts can be used for hydroponic gardens, allowing the community the ability to grow in all seasons and provide a place to come together.

By turning roads into green bioswale we can reduce sewer waste, improve water quality and reduce health hazards.

Wellness from the Ground Up

Working from home has been hard on New Yorkers, but many of us have taken the opportunity to learn to better prioritize our personal wellness and mental health. Our community should reflect that ideology. Nothing is more important for health than adequate sleep and sometimes New Yorkers need a place to lie down and decompress, even if that space is away from home.



For those in need of a mental break, we should create mental oases across the city, using available space for meditation and micro-experiences to offer community residents a break from their daily grind.

Developing a mix of micro experiences will help provide the diversity of spaces that make neighborhoods great and bring variety and richness to New York street life. This mix of spaces can create opportunities to support neighborhood diversity and provide more opportunities for a greater cross-section of the city population.

Small Businesses from the Ground Up

We have to provide a space for small businesses to rebuild their businesses and support the reconstruction of their communities, and we by bringing the two closers than ever. More than 578,000 jobs have been lost in NYC during the pandemic many due to the loss of small businesses. By rethinking the ground floor of NYC, we can provide opportunities for small businesses to develop and thrive.

One of my favorite things about living and designing in New York City has always been the vibrant street life and the opportunity and excitement about discovering something new and unexpected. But after this past year during the global pandemic, the ground floor of New York has been shuttered, papered over windows with for lease signs. The ground floor of New York today is a lot quieter and subdued than it once was. What hasn’t changed is the act of discovering. As we come out of this global pandemic we now have the opportunity to rediscover, redesign, and reimagine New York City’s ground floor, the heartbeat and soul of the city.

~Steven South
  Design Director, Senior Associate

We can make more of street pedestrian pavilions, offering restaurants and local businesses a chance to bring their operations into the sunlight, while rebuilding our communities around shared experiences.


The arts have suffered more than most during the lockdown, but we can restimulate that business and bring communities together by bringing performers back to the streets in venues that local communities can enjoy and support.

Working from the Ground Up

The pandemic has painted a dull picture of New York’s office infrastructure, with high-level offices losing much of their luster and demand. With remote workforces expected to remain prominent post-pandemic but New Yorkers craving escape from their homes, we need to see a ground-level reimagining of the New York workforce across new modular spaces.

Companies and organizations could use vacant retail space to create customer/client experience centers where they can host people right on street level. This allows the workspace to be on the upper floors and the ground floor space as a place to engage with clients and showcase their brand to a broader population as a whole. ­­This provides opportunities for brands to help build better connections to the local neighborhood. When the space isn’t hosting business meetings may be a local organization like Girls Who Code could use it for their after-school programs. Businesses could really help to create spaces that support the local neighborhood while building up their own brand experience.

As we come out of this pandemic many things have changed about how we function and how we use space. Many of us have moved our shopping to an online experience. Because of the lockdowns we all have spent more time in our own neighborhoods than ever before. While some things will return after this pandemic many things have changed permanently and we are now given this great opportunity to create the next great New York street life experience for the future.