MIT and Harvard Team Wins 2019 ULI Hines Student Competition with Plan to Redevelop Cincinnati Site

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WASHINGTON– A redevelopment plan for a Cincinnati site presented by a team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University has taken top honors in the 2019 Urban Land Institute (ULI) Hines Student Competition, an ideas competition that provides graduate students the opportunity to devise a comprehensive design and development scheme for a large-scale site in an urban area. Members of the winning team were awarded a prize of $50,000 at the conclusion of the competition in Cincinnati on April 4. The finalist teams, one from the University of Cincinnati and two from the University of Texas at Austin, each will receive $10,000.

This year’s competition involved the redevelopment of a site in Cincinnati comprising portions of a highway, the central business district, and the downtown riverfront along the Ohio River. The teams were tasked with evaluating the potential to deck the highway and combine it with adjacent parcels, with the ultimate goal being to connect the parcels and create a vibrant, pedestrian-oriented, sustainable, mixed-use neighborhood. The assignment, designed to simulate an actual design, planning and development scenario, was based on Cincinnati’s vision for improving the linkage between the downtown and its riverfront and transforming the entire area into a lively place for both residents and visitors.

The four teams that advanced to the final round of the competition were chosen from 90 teams representing more than 40 universities in the United States and Canada. Team proposals were required to illustrate innovative approaches to five general elements: 1) planning context and analysis, 2) a master land use plan, 3) urban design, 4) site-specific illustrations of new development, and 5) development schedule and finances.

The winning scheme from the MIT-Harvard team, The Cincy.Stitch,repositions a pivotal stretch of waterfront not as the city’s edge, but as the center of a connected region. Through four threads — culture + history, public realm, transportation, and new economies — the proposal strategically expands the site and creates connections to break down barriers across geography and time. Together, these four threads weave an urban tapestry rich in history but geared to the future; a 24-hour neighborhood bustling with city dwellers, and a center for new commerce that connects citizens across the region socially and physically.

“The jury was impressed with all of the teams in terms of the completeness of their presentations, the creativity, and all of the thought that went into their proposals,” said ULI Hines Student Competition Jury Chairman and longtime ULI Foundation Governor Alex J. Rose. “The MIT-Harvard team stood out because it demonstrated the greatest cohesiveness by an interdisciplinary team to solve an urban challenge requiring multiple disciplines,” said Rose, senior vice president of Continental Development Corporation in El Segundo, California. “The team had a very clear strategy, an achievable plan, a clear and creative financial model, and a presentation that strongly supported and illustrated their plan.”

The MIT-Harvard team was comprised of Joshua Brooks, master of city planning, MIT (team leader); Shiqi Peng, master of finance, MIT; Alan Sage, master of city planning, MIT; Zhicheng Xu, master of architecture, MIT; and Matthew Macchietto, master of landscape architecture, Harvard. “All of us, in our approach to urban design, planning, finance, architecture and landscape architecture, really think of cities as human habitat,” Brooks said. “City building is something we consider as a calling, not just a profession. As we embarked on this assignment, we wanted to take a position on what we think cities should be, and our proposal does that.”

The ULI Hines Student Competition was created with a generous endowment from longtime ULI leader Gerald D. Hines, founder of the Hines real estate organization. “We look forward to this competition every year and seeing these bright young people come forth with outstanding ideas and projects to improve our cities,” Hines said. “The interdisciplinary approach and the tight deadlines give aspiring students a glimpse into what the real estate business is actually like. They are the future of the built environment.”

The finalist teams and development schemes:

  • The ANCHOR” from the University of Cincinnati – The ANCHOR not only bridges the riverfront to downtown but binds the region. Promoting current and proposed transportation infrastructure, the ANCHOR becomes a place of convergence. The ANCHOR serves as a critical base for industries that endorse start-up innovation, creativeness, and wellness on a regional scale. It expands the riverfront by constructing significant resilience strategies in the development of pedestrian thoroughfares and an extension of the river trail. The scheme envisions a destination with a user-centric focus that was created through collaboration that is regional in scope.
  • Cincinnati United” from the University of Texas at Austin – Cincinnati United provides a 21st century gateway into the city by reimagining a historically divisive edge as a welcoming While honoring the past, it also defines a future focused on diversity and collaboration. A new cultural hub, Freedom Hall, integrates closely with the existing Freedom Center and a dynamic new boardwalk, as well as a repositioned riverfront. Simultaneously, a mixed-use development strategy bridges to downtown and descends into a lively riverfront village.
  • The Landing” from the University of Texas at Austin – The Landing reconnects the central business district with the Ohio River waterfront along a spine of active civic spaces. The development offers dense urban living and outdoor amenities that support an ecologically sensitive landscape with a restored riparian waterfront.  With longevity in mind, The Landing takes on a progressive approach to investing in a district-wide eco infrastructure early on, which increases savings and augments the goal for a carbon-neutral Cincinnati.

The competition jury consisted of renowned experts representing a strategic mix of land use professionals, including developers, architects, urban designers, urban planners, investment bankers and financial analysts. In addition to Jury Chairman Rose, members of the jury are: Clete J. Benken, partner, MKSK, Covington, Kentucky; Andre Brumfield, Urban Strategies & Design Leader, principal, Gensler, Chicago; Merrie S. Frankel, president, Minerva Realty Consultants, LLC, New York City; Suzette Goldstein, director of planning, HOK, Washington, D.C.; Richard M. Gollis, co-founder and principal, The Concord Group, LLC, Newport Beach, California; Steven T. Kenat, principal and director of community development, GBBN, Cincinnati; Robert C. Lieber, executive managing director, C-III Capital Partners, New York City; Stephen P. Navarro, president & chief executive officer, The Furman Co., Inc., Greenville, South Carolina; Kevin Riley, chief operating officer and partner, North American Properties, Cincinnati; Lori Singleton, vice president and corporate design director, Smith Group, Ann Arbor, Michigan; and Charles L. Thomas, vice president and director, real estate equity investments, Eagle Realty Group, Cincinnati.

The diversity of the entries reflected “interesting, creative and critical thinking,” noted Navarro. “The students bring an unabashed, ‘forget-about-the-barriers’ perspective, and it is interesting to parse through the proposals to see what can work. The Hines program gives us the opportunity to see what the education system is doing in terms of sowing the seeds for the future of our industry.”

“The ULI Hines Student Competition is interesting because the students are tasked with creating a plan to redevelop an actual site,” Frankel said. “It encompasses design, development, finance, sustainability – all facets students need to consider to produce a viable project, and it is fascinating to see how they integrate all of these into their proposals in addition to the live-work-play concept.” Frankel noted that the multidisciplinary composition of the jury is tremendously helpful in ensuring that all aspects of each proposal are given due consideration. “We were all drawing upon our different strengths to pull out the salient points in each submission,” she said.

The program is part of an ongoing ULI effort to raise interest among young people in creating better communities and improving urban development patterns, as well as increase awareness among students of the need for interdisciplinary solutions to development and design challenges. The competition is strategically structured to encourage cooperation and teamwork—necessary talents in the planning, design, and development of sustainable communities—among future land use professionals and allied professions, such as architecture, landscape architecture, urban planning, historic preservation, engineering, real estate development, finance, psychology, and law. It is open to graduate students who are pursuing real estate–related studies, including programs in real estate development, urban planning, urban design, architecture, and landscape architecture. Since its creation in 2002, the ULI Hines Student Competition has been offered in North America; however, ULI is seeking to expand it to universities abroad.