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Sustainable Communities Thought Leader Uncategorized

Introducing ULI Atlanta’s New Silver Award: People’s Choice for the Public Realm

By: ULI Atlanta staff
What do we mean when we say, “the public realm?” That is a question the leaders at ULI Atlanta have been asked countless times since we introduced the award category, Excellence in the Public Realm, during last year’s annual awards program. 
As a team at ULI Atlanta, we have a unique perch of getting to listen to, learn from and work with leaders across almost all disciplines that determine how cities get built. We have collectively learned so much about a multitude of different topics, but few topics have challenged, inspired and expanded our thinking more than how we think about and invest in the public realm. 
Looking back over the last eight-plus years, ULI offers a few highlights from various programs and partnerships that may inform what Excellence in the Public Realm looks like and why it matters:

  • In 2014, Fred Kent of Project for Public Spaces, asked us to rethink the “spaces in between” — such as the spaces we gather in between home and work or school and shopping — in his keynote on “Placemaking for Great Public and Private Spaces.”
  • Throughout the past seven years, ULI Atlanta has had the opportunity to work with and learn from the SPARCC (Strong, Prosperous, And Resilient Communities Challenge), TransFormation Alliance and HouseATL partners to better understand the role of arts, cultural assets, green space and infrastructure in prioritizing communities and people in community. This understanding helps ensure we are not only thinking about physical displacement but also cultural and civic displacement in areas experiencing new investment. 
  • Last summer, former Mayor Joe Riley addressed ULI Atlanta members and challenged us to “make our cities beautiful for everyone” and invest in a public realm that “makes the heart sing.”  
  • Last fall, when artist Theaster Gates received ULI’s 2018 J.C. Nichols Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development, he made a compelling case in his keynote address for why building without innovation and creativity of the public realm creates bland cities. “Don’t be afraid to expand who sits at the table, so that the communities you are working in are represented at the table,” Gates said.
  • The role of the public realm is also a guiding principle of ULI’s Building Healthy Places Initiative. Think: “If sitting was the new smoking, social isolation in the new sitting.”  It’s clear the approach to planning and development during the next decade must be deliberate about how we connect, bring people together and build community; our health very well depend on it.

As ULI Atlanta is approaching its 25th year in celebrating Development of Excellence Awards in the Atlanta region, we reflect on why we hold the awards program: to elevate projects, people and places that advance the mission of promoting the responsible use of land to build healthier, thriving and more sustainable communities. That’s why we think Excellence in the Public Realm should be selected by you—the public! The project which receives the most votes will be recognized at ULI Atlanta’s 25th annual Awards Dinner on September 12, 2019. 
Excellence in the public realm includes celebrating parks, open space, public art and thoughtful infrastructure. Last year, we recognized the Atlanta BeltLine’s Westside Trail — a pivotal investment in the Southwest and Westside neighborhoods of Atlanta that constitutes more than 40 acres of greenway, providing a direct connection from surrounding neighborhoods to four area parks and four local schools.
Investing in public spaces matter because they create a sense of place – connecting us to our neighbors and giving us a creative sense of vibrancy, culture, history and identity. As Theaster Gates said, “Don’t be afraid to expand who sits at the table.” This is a vitally important lesson in how to make a place better.
Atlanta, what inspires us? What do you want to see more often? We would like to open a dialogue about the public realm. Why does it matter? What does the public realm mean to you?
As we launch our People’s Choice Award for Excellence in Public Realm, we invite you to nominate the places you love —the places in between, the places you connect with each other, the places that make you proud of your city and community and the places that make your heart sing. 
Here’s how the nominations process for the People’s Choice for the Public Realm will work:

  • Nominations will be accepted from June 24th – July 26th
  • Submit your nomination(s) for the best public realm project built in ULI Atlanta’s region (Georgia, Alabama, Eastern Tennessee) since 1994
  • Submit your nomination as comments or as a direct messages via ULI Atlanta’s Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter pages

For case studies and additional research on the benefits of the public realm, see ULI’s latest publication The Case for Open Space.


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