National Spotlight on Atlanta’s ‘SoYES’
By Sarah Kirsch of the Urban Land Institute
At its annual meeting last week, Midtown Alliance President & CEO Kevin Green shared that there is significant investment and change coming to the area of the city south of North Avenue. So much, in fact, that locals will no longer refer to it as ‘SoNo’ but ‘SoYES.’ Who doesn’t love a good pun?
It so happens that over the last two months, ‘SoYES’ has been the focus of the national ULI Hines Student Competition and the country’s best and brightest have been reimagining how the area could redevelop and better bridge Midtown and Downtown. 655 students from 59 Universities developed a total of 131 different concepts for key parcels surrounding and including North Avenue MARTA station.
Last week ULI announced that the member jury selected four university teams — two from Harvard University, one from the Georgia Institute of Technology, and one from the University of Miami —as finalists in the 14th annual ULI Hines Student Competition.
The four teams are advancing to the final round of the competition in Atlanta in April, when they will compete for the $50,000 prize for first place.
There is a lot to say ‘yes’ to about the finalist teams’ development proposals:
- Georgia Institute of Technology: “Breaking the Fourth Wall” is an integrated, mixed-use assortment of social spaces to help Atlantans embrace the city’s vibrant public realm.
- Harvard University: “Converge ATL” weaves together a hybrid-urban landscape that increases value for all real estate blocks in Midtown Atlanta by integrating the disparate city blocks separated by Interstate 85.
- Harvard University: “The Midtown Beat” weaves together a strategy for the redevelopment of the Midtown neighborhood that capitalizes on some of the district’s innovation, cultural, and health components.
- University of Miami: “The Matrix” is a mixed-use development program aptly named to reflect Midtown Atlanta’s role as the city’s lead district in technological advancements.
About the 2016 Competition
The 2016 competition challenged student teams to design and submit a master-plan proposal that included presentation boards with drawings, site plans, tables, and market-feasible financial data for an area in Atlanta’s Midtown neighborhood.
This year’s competition is designed to simulate an actual urban planning and development scenario, with some details changed for the purposes of the competition. It is based on a hypothetical situation in which key area landowners have reached out to owners of smaller parcels and come together as a group with a common strategy supporting the vision for building mixed-use sustainable and vibrant neighborhoods.
In this competition scenario, teams have been given the task of transforming this transitional area and completing the vision for Midtown Atlanta as a thriving, sustainable, mixed-use, walkable, and transit-accessible neighborhood. The assignment includes taking advantage of the site’s proximity to downtown and Technology Square, its adjacency to Peachtree Street and public transportation, and its strong regional access.
Though based on a hypothetical situation, the 2016 Hines Student Competition reflects many real-life concerns of Atlanta. In recent years, the city has supported increased market demand for urban real estate products with strategies to attract investment in its urban core and along key commercial corridors.
In addition to the four finalists, the jury selected ten team proposals for honorable mention. The jury commended the University of Michigan for “The Catalyst: Interweaving Midtown Atlanta”; the University of Miami for “Midline Market: Cultivating a Life Well Lived”; the University of Southern California for “The Cradle: Nurturing the Revitalization”; the University of British Columbia for “Gradient City”; the Georgia Institute of Technology for “The Junction”; the University of Pennsylvania for “Forest in the City: Infrastructure as Catalysts for Forest Sprawl”; the University of Texas at Austin for “Tech Town: Atlanta’s 24hr Living District”; the University of Oklahoma for “Pixels: Animating Midtown Atlanta”; a joint team of Virginia Tech and Georgetown University for “Midtown Gateway”; and the University of Washington, Seattle, for “The Edge: Turning Constrains into Opportunities.”