An area along the eastern side of the Don River in Toronto has been selected as the study site for the 16th annual ULI Hines Student Competition. Though based on a hypothetical situation, the ideas competition provides both full- and part-time graduate-level student teams the opportunity to devise a comprehensive design and development program for parts of a real, large-scale site. The team with the winning proposal will receive $50,000; the winner will be announced in early April.

The competition, which began January 15, is designed to simulate an actual urban planning and development scenario, and reflects developments being considered as part of the city of Toronto’s vision for reviving the neighborhoods east of its historic downtown. Participants were tasked with creating a master development plan for the redevelopment of parcels of land adjacent to the river into a thriving mixed-use community that would catalyze other development, including additional commercial, retail, and residential space, and connect residential neighborhoods in the city’s northeast section to commercial neighborhoods in the southern section.

To be competitive, submissions must create a comprehensive environment that is programmed, designed, built, and operated with all the elements necessary to promote the site as an integrated part of the city with high appeal to workers, visitors, and residents. Playing the role of the potential master developer, student teams must evaluate the benefits and financial possibilities of buying at least two parcels along the Don River and possibly combining them with a third parcel to redevelop as one comprehensive development site.

The competition allows each team of five students 15 days to design and submit a master plan proposal that includes presentation boards with site plans, renderings, context analysis, and market-feasible financial data. Embodying the complex nature of urban planning and development, student teams must be multidisciplinary and reflect at least three different urban design and development disciplines.

This year, applications were submitted by 130 teams representing nearly 60 universities in the United States and Canada. Teams participating in the competition must submit 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.

A view of the main Hines competition site in Toronto from the east. (Real Drone/ULI)

Participants have received project briefing materials, including a comprehensive statement of the challenge, background information on the site, market information, relevant existing design proposals, site maps and photos, and other details, along with a list of materials required for team presentations. The competition is designed as an exercise; there is no intention that the students’ plans will be implemented as part of any revitalization of the site.

Project proposals must be submitted to ULI headquarters by January 29, 2018. A jury will review all proposals in compliance with the deadline and select four finalist teams and several honorable mentions. The finalists and honorable mentions will be announced in late February. During the final phase of the competition in March, the student finalist teams will have the opportunity to expand their original schemes and provide more detail for their plans. During this time, one member of each finalist team will receive an all-expenses-paid site tour of the Toronto site (though other team members may also join the tour). Information obtained during this site visit can then be used by the finalist teams in revising their presentations prior to the final presentation in April. During the April event, finalist team members will present their schemes in-person to the competition jury during a public forum in Toronto. Five thousand dollars of the $50,000 awarded to the winning team will be donated to the university represented by the team. Each of the remaining three finalist teams will receive $10,000.

“We are very excited to bring this year’s Hines Student Competition to Toronto,” said Ralph Boyd, chief executive officer of ULI Americas. “This competition is part of an ongoing ULI effort to raise awareness among young people about the very real impact that land use and urban development have on people’s lives, as well as the fortunes of our cities. It also provides an informative look at how the next generation of land use professionals will be collaborating to build cities for the future.”

The competition is strategically structured to encourage cooperation and teamwork—necessary talents in the planning, design, and development of sustainable communities—among future land use professionals and allied professions, such as architecture, landscape architecture, urban planning, historic preservation, engineering, real estate development, finance, psychology, and law. It is open to graduate students who are pursuing real estate–related studies at universities in the United States and Canada, including programs in real estate development, urban planning, urban design, architecture, and landscape architecture. Jurors for the competition represent a strategic mix of land use experts, including developers, brokers, architects, urban designers, landscape architects, urban planners, and policy officials, among others.

The competition is funded through an endowment from Gerald D. Hines, chairman of the global Hines real estate organization and a recipient of the ULI J.C. Nichols Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development. A legend in the real estate industry, Hines is 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. More than 8,000 students have participated in the Hines competition since 2003, the year it started.

For more information on the ULI Hines Student Competition, visit