Two urban parks—one in the United States, the other in China—have been selected as winners of this year’s Urban Land Institute Urban Open Space Award. Myriad Botanical Gardens in Oklahoma City and Thousand Lantern Lake Park System in Foshan, Guangdong, China, were honored at the 2015 ULI Fall Meeting in San Francisco.

The annual award recognizes outstanding examples of successful large- and small-scale public spaces that have socially enriched and revitalized the economy of their surrounding communities. The competition includes a cash prize that goes to the organizations responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the winning park spaces.

Myriad Botanical Gardens is a 15-acre (6 ha) urban downtown garden and park site in the heart of Oklahoma City (Carl Shortt Jr.)

Myriad Botanical Gardens is a 15-acre (6 ha) urban downtown garden and park site in the heart of Oklahoma City (Carl Shortt Jr.)

Myriad Botanical Gardens, owned by the Myriad Gardens Foundation and designed by the Office of James Burnett and Murase Associates, is a joint investment effort that takes an underused yet prime 15-acre (6 ha) urban downtown garden and park site that had fallen into disrepair and turns it into a state-of-the-art, highly active destination to improve the quality of life in Oklahoma City and continue the renaissance of the entire downtown.


The 286-acre (116 ha) Thousand Lantern Lake Park System is located in the district of Nanhai, China. (Jonnu Singleton, SWA Group)

Thousand Lantern Lake Park System, owned by the Nanhai District government and designed by the SWA Group, is a park system that represents a defining infrastructure effort integral to Nanhai’s strategic approach of urban transformation within a successful, people-oriented urban development district. The park system provides a creative solution for attracting people to its newly constructed Guangdong Financial High-Tech Industrial Zone.

“Our jury was impressed with the number of submissions that creatively transformed the urban landscape while remaining sensitive to the nuances of the real people who will populate it,” said jury chair Michael Covarrubias, chairman and chief executive officer of TMG Partners in San Francisco, California. “As this is the first year the competition was open to submissions from across the world, the finalists and winners all serve as international case studies demonstrating how cities can leverage open space to create value to cities and entice more useful, healthy downtown activity.”

The six finalists were selected from an impressive collection of entries representing urban areas across the globe. While landscape architecture and urban design were factors in the judging, the jury selected finalists based on a broader set of criteria, including overall project performance and their impact on the surrounding areas.

The other four finalists were the following:

  • Marina Bay, Singapore (owner/designer: Singapore Urban Redevelopment Authority). The 2.2-mile-long (3.5 km) waterfront promenade features two pedestrian bridges that encircle a 118-acre (48 ha) body of water. It generates a “water piazza” that becomes a meeting place and focal point for celebrations and activities.
  • Millennium Park, Chicago, Illinois, United States (owner: city of Chicago; designer: Edward Uhlir, et al.). The park represents a model for successful regeneration right at the urban core, providing a place for Chicagoans and tourists to enjoy a broad variety of free public events through an engaging community experience.
  • Tongva Park and Ken Genser Square, Santa Monica, California, United States (owner: city of Santa Monica; designer: James Corner Field Operations). The project embodies a new type of urban landscape that is active, innovative, resource conscious, and natural. Shaped by extensive public participation, the design creates a contemporary and transformative series of gardens and active spaces that symbolically redefine and interconnect at the center of Santa Monica.
  • Washington Canal Park, Washington, D.C., United States (owner: Canal Park Development Association Inc.; designers: OLIN and Studios Architecture, dcpc). One of the first parks built as part of the District of Columbia’s Anacostia Waterfront Initiative, the park is located on three acres (1.2 ha) of a former parking lot for district school buses that has been transformed into a model of sustainability, a social gathering place, and an economic trigger for the surrounding neighborhood.

The award was created through the generosity of Amanda M. Burden, former New York City planning commissioner and 2009 laureate of the ULI J.C. Nichols Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development. In 2011, the Kresge Foundation, MetLife Foundation, and the ULI Foundation joined forces to continue the Urban Open Space Award through 2015. For 2015, ULI reaffirmed its commitment to the award and announced it would expand the program to include global submissions.

To be eligible for the competition, an open-space project must have been opened to the public for at least one year and no more than 15 years; be predominantly outdoors and inviting to the public; provide abundant and varied seating, sun and shade, trees and plantings, plus attractions; be used intensively on a daily basis by a broad spectrum of users throughout the year; have a positive economic impact on its surroundings; promote the physical, social, and economic health of the larger community; and provide lessons, strategies, and techniques that can be used or adapted in other communities.

In addition to jury chairman Covarrubias, other 2015 awards jury members were jury vice chair M. Leanne Lachman, president, Lachman Associates, New York, New York; Amanda Burden, principal, Bloomberg Associates, New York, New York; Terrall Vern Budge, principal, Loci, Salt Lake City, Utah; Dr. Sujata S. Govada, managing director, UDP International, Wan Chai, Hong Kong; Jason Hellendrung, principal, Sasaki Associates, Watertown, Massachusetts; Sophie Henley-Price, managing director, Studios, Paris, France; Lance K. Josal, chief executive officer, Callison RTKL, Dallas, Texas; Jeff Kingsbury, managing principal, Greenstreet Ltd., Indianapolis, Indiana; Jacinta McCann, executive vice president, AECOM, San Francisco, California; Steve Navarro, executive vice president, CBRE; Greenville, South Carolina; and Trini M. Rodriguez, principal, ParkerRodriguez Inc., Alexandria, Virginia.