Leaders who worked on three transformative urban projects showed why the projects had distinguished themselves as ULI award winners at the “Game Changers” session at ULI’s 2010 Fall Meeting.

Ng Lang, CEO, Urban Redevelopment Authority of Singapore, introduced The Southern Ridges, an urban park system focused on a nine-kilometer (5.6-mile) nature trail. The project turned the need to cross urban roadways into an opportunity to expand park space. The Henderson Waves and Alexandra Arch bridges have become attractions and useable park space in their own right. The Southern Ridges attracted over one million visitors in its first two years.

Downtown Fort Worth, Texas was just another dying American downtown, losing out to the shiny malls in suburbia, when work began in the 1970s on what would become Sundance Square. Johnny Campbell, president and chief executive officer, Sundance Square Management, and David M. Schwarz, president and chief executive officer, David M Schwarz Architects, took the audience through the project decade by decade as it grew to 40 blocks of downtown, planned and managed as one mixed-use development. A coherent vision guided the process: create a balanced downtown by centering density on Main St and revitalizing its pedestrian scale and rhythm. Tax abatements and tax increment financing supported the public/private partnership.

Columbia Heights, a historic neighborhood in northwest Washington, D.C., had kept its residents, but its commercial center had long been in decline. A new rail station on the Metro’s green line, cultural attractions such as refurbished Tivoli Theater and the Dance Institute of Washington, and an urban-scaled Target seeded investment, which now includes big, small, and local commercial tenants. “The real magic here is the reborn neighborhood made out of the old [existing] residents, attentive city government, and unbelievable public/private partnerships,” explained John Torti, President, Torti Gallas and Partners/CHK, Inc.

Impressed, but cautious, a session participant asked the discussion leaders, “Given the current economic realities, if taking on the challenge of such a project today, where would you start?”

“Now is the time for the public sector to be investing, to lay the ground work for the private sector,” advised Valerie J. Santos, Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, District of Columbia, a premise echoed by the other discussion leaders. The private sector can still seek transformative opportunities too, as session moderator Joseph E. Brown, Group Chief Executive, AECOM, concluded, “The real wisdom and courage belong to those who can read the bottom and ride it up.”