The ULI InfraXchange is a global webinar series that spotlights trend-setting infrastructure strategies from North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific. Curated by Yvonne Yeung, ULI Curtis Infrastructure Fellow, and moderated by ULI Infrastructure Forum Leadership, the session explores how to combine infrastructure to generate recurring financial resources, transform infrastructure delivery and development culture, and magnify benefits to communities. Register for the June 8 session: “One Community” Infrastructure for Aging Up at uli.org/events
The March ULI InfraXchange featured Michael Van Valkenburg Associate-led project Waterloo Greenway Waller Creek in Austin, Henning Larsen’s project with Jurong Lakeside Garden in Singapore, and ULI Philadelphia’s North Broad Renaissance Initiative, a ULI Curtis Infrastructure TAP project. Matthew Kwatinetz, director of New York University’s Urban Lab and Craig Lewis, placemaking practice group leader with Callison RTKL, moderated a robust discussion.
Austin and Singapore are among the fastest-growing metropolises in the world. Nature and water were “hidden” in certain parts of the city, within confined structures or swamp ecosystems. Increased flooding and urban heat have added pressure on the growing population, many are young families with children living in apartment units.
Austin’s ‘One Environment’ Strategy – a new way of contracting, a new language, and a new geography
In 2010s, a bypass tunnel infrastructure triggered a new, public-adopted vision to bring nature back to the city. As part of a joint development agreement, subdistricts were created for an expandable ‘chain of parks’ to create hyper-local public-private partnerships across contract lines and jurisdictions.
“Every phase of the work has a separate proposal, that allow adaptable contract. It’s smart because the circumstance keeps changing along all of these edges and so it allows for adaptable contracting which makes everyone happier. This kind of micro visions, the sub districting…can (be used to) talk about the unique land ownership structure here with the ground leases,” said Gullivar Shepard, principal of Michael Van Valkenburg Associate.
A new language (a 400-foot-beam “artwork infrastructure”) was invented to allow a park to float above the creek in Waterloo Greenway, also creating a new revenue stream for the Conservancy to lease space for events for up to 5,000 people.
A set of elevated walkways bridge fragmented lakefront neighborhoods, creating a new geography with authentic landscape from afar that provides an ‘in-town vacation’ and brings back the lost tree canopy to the surrounding underserved communities.
The results are a new model of maintenance and operation protocol, the first environmental infrastructure project in Texas, a $12 million fund from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, a $500 million enhanced value to existing real estate assets, a projected $400 million in new tax revenue for the City of Austin and the Travis County, and a potential to catalyze over $2 billion in real estate value over 20 years.
“Leading with Landscape. It helps build confidence by having an immediate place that creates delight and pleasure for people as kind of given agency. Now we’re at the middle of all these other projects, like a new light rail, a Convention Center expansion…” said Gullivar.
Singapore’s “One Environment’ Strategy” – a new habitat culture, a new relationship with water, and a new approach to design with change in mind
Triggered by a trend where “parkland was given away to private development along the edge of water and of a lake,” said Jelle Therry, design director of Henning Larsen. “This is where the authority of Singapore stepped in and said hold on. We can use this available land to make a park space which is dedicated to the community and use that as a leverage, as a means and methods to transform the whole neighbourhood. And they developed a master plan.”
A new habitat culture was then recreated to bring back life to a degraded landscape, with new nature-based recreational experiences inspired by animals found on Jurong Lakeside Garden site.
A new relationship with water was established. “We didn’t have any water; we made our own water. And we’re now rich in water because we’re harvesting all our rainwater. We’re reusing our industrial water. We’re reusing our wastewater to make it drinkable and to make it playable,” said Jelle.
To restore the ecosystem, nature-based solutions were used to convert concrete channels into naturalized, meandering terrain that increases water storage capacity and recreates a dry-wet waters edge lined with boardwalk. 8 acres of naturalized grassland were replanted for bird’s habitat, inspired by spontaneous vegetation found on site.
The result is a living landscape that protects the surrounding real estate, creating intimacy with nature, anchored by an iconic rebar tree as a symbol of ‘letting nature do its work’. Create new memories and inspire people to live sustainably.
Philadelphia’s ‘One Environment’ Strategy – a new framework for resource and financial independence
The North Broad Renaissance Initiative in Philadelphia demonstrated a ground-up approach to resource and financial independence. Triggered by a legislative process to form a Business Improvement District (“BID”), the initiative developed mechanisms that could generate $750,000 to $1 million annually. It also provides training for the local workforce in landscape maintenance and ways to sublease spaces for revenue.
Philadelphia taken a nature-based approach to reduce the high cost of digging up roads and upgrading storm sewers. “We’ve gone the route of creating rain gardens that almost every corner and look at large industrial sites where we can create some pervious services and capture more rainwater,” said Kevin Moran, executive director of ULI Philadelphia.
“Part of that strategy has been realigning our tax policy to increase the burden of large institutional sites with large impervious services to pay more for their stormwater management in a neighborhood like N Broad.”
Out of this panel discussion, the ULI InfraXchange highlighted seven key takeaways for our members and future projects:
- Leading by Landscape to build confidence and invite other infrastructure
- Thinking across boundaries and design with craftmanship from the outset
- Sequence to succeed and re-integrate nature through open space and infrastructure
- Re-engineer infrastructure to create urban value and connect communities
- Reconstruct nature to increase natural resources and create urban memories