Two urban parks—Levy Park in Houston and Madrid Río Park in Madrid, Spain—have been selected as winners of the ULI Urban Open Space Award. The award recognizes outstanding examples of successful large- and small-scale public spaces that have socially enriched and revitalized the economy of their surrounding communities. Ricardo Lara Park in Los Angeles was also honored with a Special Community Impact recognition.

ULI Global Chairman Thomas W. Toomey announced the winners at the 2018 Fall Meeting in Boston. “These parks are part of a select group of places that are making our cities more interesting and appealing,” Toomey said.

Levy Park, owned by the Upper Kirby Redevelopment Authority and designed by OJB Landscape Architecture, is one of the only public green spaces in Houston’s Upper Kirby District. Formerly an underused park, the 5.9-acre (2 ha) space now offers a children’s garden, a rain garden, free programming, and space for public events and performances. More than 10,000 people visit the park weekly, a dramatic increase from earlier years when the park received just 75 visitors a week.

“The jury found Levy Park to be a dynamic public/private partnership that was unique in how it was structured. The park is architecturally very strong and executed extremely well, and it provides appealing programming and amenities that benefit the entire Houston community,” said ULI trustee and jury chairman Stuart I. Ackerberg, chief executive officer of the Ackerberg Group.

Madrid Río Park—owned by the Madrid City Council and designed by Burgos & Garrido, Porras & La Casta, Rubio & A-Sala, and West 8—knits together the southern and northern parts of Madrid and benefits some of the city’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods. The 360-acre (146 ha) park required both the burying of a major highway and the steadfast commitment from the city’s leadership in the face of public opposition. The park now hosts 4,000 programs a year while attracting more than 1 million visitors. 

“Madrid Rio is an out-of-the-box, creative linear park that has transformed an area previously separated by a freeway, which is now a six-mile-long [9.7 km] regional park that allows access, amenities, and programming to all members of the community,” Ackerberg said.

The winners were selected from an impressive collection of entries representing urban areas from across the globe. While landscape architecture and urban design were factors in the judging process, the jury selected finalists based on a broader set of criteria, including overall project performance and how each affected or revived its surrounding areas.

Ricardo Lara Park, which received a Special Community Impact recognition, is located in a densely populated neighborhood immediately adjacent to a freeway. Opened in October 2015 and designed by SWA, it features five activity zones that offer different amenities, including a community garden, a shade pavilion, a dog park, a children’s play area, and an adult fitness area, plus bioswales and basins that treat runoff and act as flood prevention.

“This park, which turned a very challenging area into a very dynamic one, is innovative, creative, and replicable in cities around the world,” Ackerberg said.

To be eligible for the competition, an open-space project must have been open to the public for one to 15 years; be predominantly outdoors and inviting to the public; provide abundant and varied seating, sun and shade, trees, and plantings with attractions; be used intensively on a daily basis throughout the year by a broad spectrum of users; 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 chairman Ackerman, jury members were vice chairman Lynn S. Carlton, vice president and regional leader of planning, HOK, St. Louis; Antonio Fiol-Silva, founding principal, SITIO architecture + urbanism, Philadelphia; Glenda E. Hood, cofounder, TriSect, Orlando; Mehul J. Patel, chief operating officer, Midwood Investment & Development, New York City; Mitchell J. Silver, commissioner, New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, New York City; and F. Karl Zavitkovsky, principal, Enterprise Bridge USA, Dallas.