Graduate Student Teams Challenged to Design Thriving, Mixed-Use Neighborhood in Downtown Kansas City

The East Village neighborhood in downtown Kansas City, Missouri, has been selected as the study site for ULI’s 19th annual ULI Hines Student Competition. This educational initiative, open to graduate-level students, is an exercise to encourage innovative ideas and cross-disciplinary collaboration and provides an opportunity to devise a comprehensive design and development program for an actual large-scale urban site.

This year, 110 teams representing 62 universities in the United States, Canada, and Singapore registered to compete, including 34 teams with students from more than one university. The team with the winning proposal will receive $50,000, of which $5,000 goes to the university or universities the team represents. Each of the remaining three finalist teams will receive $10,000.

The competition, the initial stage of which was held in January, simulates an actual design, planning, and development scenario, and reflects Kansas City’s vision to ensure that its greater downtown area is a vibrant, connected core for the city and region. In the first round, students propose how to create a thriving, mixed-use, mixed-income neighborhood in the East Village neighborhood. Students are asked to consider issues of housing affordability, equity, transportation, mobility, sustainability, and resilience in their proposals. Though it focuses on a real site, the competition is a creative exercise; there is no expectation that the student proposals will be implemented.

A jury of ULI members who are experts in real estate, land use, and design will select four finalist teams by late February. During the final phase of the competition, those four teams will expand their original proposals. The teams will present their revised proposal twice: first to a panel of local experts in March, and then to the jury during the finals in April.

“We are very pleased to bring the ULI Hines Student Competition to Kansas City,” says Michael Collins, chair of ULI Kansas City and a member of the ULI Americas Executive Committee. “Kansas City’s downtown has experienced significant growth in the past decade, and fresh thinking for the East Village neighborhood would help continue this trend in a sustainable manner. We look forward to seeing the submissions and creativity that the students bring to the site.”

The competition encourages cooperation and teamwork—necessary talents in the planning, design, and development of great places—among future professionals in real estate and the many allied professions. Teams must be multidisciplinary and include students pursuing at least three different degree programs across at least three different disciplines. This mix typically includes graduate students who are pursuing programs in real estate development, architecture, landscape architecture, urban planning, urban design, finance, historic preservation, engineering, and law.

In the first round, the competition allows each team of five students 15 days to create proposals that 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. Participants have received project briefing materials, including a comprehensive statement of the challenge, background information on the site, market information, relevant existing design proposals, and site maps and photos.

“This is not only a competition; it is an opportunity for industry leaders to mentor student teams, ultimately encouraging and shining a spotlight on new ideas that are worthy of notice by the industry,” says Cindy Chance, executive vice president of ULI Learning and Product Councils, Americas.

“The competition gives ULI members a glimpse into the future, revealing how the next generation of city builders, the most diverse along every dimension, are thinking about growing and revitalizing our communities. We want to thank the many ULI members who helped prepare the challenge for the students and who will be mentoring teams throughout the competition.”

The competition is funded through an endowment from the late Gerald D. Hines, chairman and founder of the global Hines real estate organization and recipient of the 2002 ULI Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development. A legend in the real estate industry, Hines was widely known as a leader who pioneered the use of high-quality planning and architecture as a marketable feature of development in office, residential, and mixed-use projects.

Since the first competition in 2003, more than 9,725 students on over 1,945 teams have participated, including 360 students who have made it to the finals. The ULI Hines Student Competition expanded to ULI Europe in 2020.

Learn more about the ULI Hines Student Competition.