ULI is renaming its annual $100,000 J.C. Nichols Prize as the ULI Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development. The change represents part of ULI’s ongoing effort to address and assist in remedying the legacy of social and economic harm caused by some real estate practices.

“The legacy of J.C. Nichols is complex and intertwined with the founding of ULI,” commented Ed Walter, global chief executive of the Urban Land Institute. “Nichols greatly influenced the design and management of suburban America and was at the forefront of professionalizing the real estate industry in the U.S. However, his use of restrictive covenants perpetuated racial segregation and discrimination, the negative impacts of which still affect some communities today. This element of the Nichols’ legacy is clearly inconsistent with our mission and values, and when viewed through a longer-term lens that better recognizes the lasting impact of these practices, mandates that the prize be renamed.”

Walter continues: “We believe removing J.C. Nichols’ name from ULI’s most important individual honor is a critical step in our commitment to addressing the racial injustices of the past, and to improving the diversity and inclusivity of our organization and industry going forward.”

Originally established in 2000 by a gift from the Nichols family to the ULI Foundation, the prize has recognized an individual who has made a distinguished contribution to community building globally, who has established visionary standards of excellence in the land use and development field, and whose commitment to creating the highest quality built environment has led to the betterment of our society.

Twenty years ago, Jeannette Nichols initiated the prize to honor J.C. Nichols, the father of Jeanette’s late husband, Miller Nichols. J.C. Nichols was a prominent developer from Kansas City, MO, who was instrumental in founding ULI and chaired the Institute’s first Product Council, the Community Builders Council. J.C. Nichols is widely regarded as one of America’s most innovative and successful real estate developers of the first half of the twentieth century, developing the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, a forerunner to the modern outdoor shopping center. His residential subdivisions included an array of restrictive covenants that were designed to maintain the value, quality, and longevity of the community, an approach that was frequently adopted by other developers. However, he also included covenants that prevented people from purchasing homes in his developments based on race, ethnicity, or religion. The use of these types of restrictive covenants by Nichols and others had tragic consequences for those they excluded.

Despite a Supreme Court striking down racially restrictive housing covenants in 1948, the effects of such exclusionary practices in cities like Washington, D.C., Baltimore, MD, and Kansas City, MO, among many others, lasted for generations and remain visible today. These practices blocked families from many neighborhoods and cut them off from a significant and otherwise common pathway to build wealth through home ownership. And members of our communities continue to struggle with the health and economic implications of living on less desirable land, often adjacent to polluting industry or farther from job centers.

“Over the last few years, the prize Jury and Management Committee have shifted the focus of the prize to align with ULI’s mission,” said Wayne Nichols, grandson of J.C. Nichols. “With this shift, the Jury has recently recognized visionaries who have sought to improve the built environment for people across a broad spectrum of society.”

Recent winners of the prize include:

  • The 2017 laureate Robin Chase, cofounder and chief executive officer of Zipcar, pioneered car-sharing, which has reduced individual vehicle ownership, as well as the urban land that cities must dedicate to driving and parking. She donated her prize money to support an initiative to elevate stories from communities of color about the unique and disproportionate impact congestion has on them.
  • The 2018 laureate Theaster Gates, a prolific artist and urban planner, was the first Black American to win the Nichols Prize. Gates revitalizes neglected neighborhoods, focusing on deep community engagement in the redevelopment process.
  • The 2019 laureate Alejandro Aravena, a Chilean architect and educator, similarly focuses on embedding community needs deeply in his designs. His unique deployment of the concept of incremental housing in his home country gives low-income families a flexible home structure they can grow according to their resources and needs.

Going forward, the Nichols Family will continue to support the prize, allowing ULI to continue to recognize leaders who enhance the built environment, in ways that benefit everyone in our diverse community.