Circular City + Living Systems Lab

March 24, 2021

COVID-19 Rapid Response: Design Determinants of Seattle Food Retail Business Continuity


The current pandemic, with its associated need for physical distancing and the accompanying transformation of the built environment, generates the pressing need for built environment researchers to refocus their research and respond to the current public health crisis. An interdisciplinary team from the College of Built Environments at the University of Washington (UW) with backgrounds in economics, urban planning, and architecture raised the following question: How do the physical design and service models of essential services and businesses improve or worsen the prospect of business continuity, economic success, and social welfare in the COVID-19 pandemic? The team successfully participated in two calls for COVID-19 Research by the UW Population Health Initiative in March and May 2020, funding a comprehensive project of data collection and analysis in Seattle. It is designed as empirical, mixed-methods research, surveying for patterns of facility designs, service models and modifications, and economic outcomes for providers, before and during the pandemic. The project is laid out in three steps: (1) spatial typology and business closure data collection, (2) semi-structured interviews regarding service delivery modifications and financial outcomes (3) and analysis of the economic effects of physical design and service choices. The data collection was set up in conjunction with the state’s safe reopening efforts, under COVID-19 physical distancing guidelines. The material changes are used to infer types of responses to keep the businesses operating during the stay-at-home order. The fieldwork is followed by interviews of companies on their experience and critical business continuity data. The project concludes with a spatial and economic analysis of the data. This paper reports on the research design, data collection process, and first findings of this ongoing research project with a focus on food retail and restaurants.


Proksch, G., Whittington, J., Sun, F., Craddock, E. (2021) COVID-19 Rapid Response: Design Determinants of Seattle Food Retail Business Continuity. Expanding the View: Proceedings of the 109th ACSA Annual Meeting/ Virtual Conference, March 24-26, 2021, Washington, DC: ACSA Press, 2021