- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 8, 2003

Four groups of sleep-deprived students will find out tomorrow if they have won a theoretical battle against blight in the District. Before a jury of planning officials and real estate professionals, the teams of graduate students will present plans to redevelop the dilapidated area around South Capitol and M streets, as part of the first Urban Land Institute Gerald D. Hines Urban Design Competition.The Urban Land Institute (ULI) gave four teams a theoretical budget of $50 million and charged them with creating the first phase of a plan to turn a 16-block area along South Capitol Street into a “gateway” connecting neighborhoods along the Anacostia River to Capitol Hill.The teams are from Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Southern California and the University of Pennsylvania. Each team had four or five members and worked with a faculty and professional adviser.The competition was conceived and funded by Gerald Hines, founder and co-chairman of the Hines development company of Houston. The company manages 11 Washington-area buildings, including the headquarters of Gannett Corp. and USA Today in McLean.The final teams were selected from 45 groups at 26 schools, all of whom submitted plans in February. Members say they have worked at least five hours a day on the project, on top of their class work and graduate theses.”All of the four finalists had very solid, well-thought-out plans,” said Gayle Berens, vice president of real estate development at the ULI.The ULI and D.C. planners said the student plans probably would be used only as inspiration for development of the site. The purpose of the competition, organizers said, was to let students collaborate on a real estate project with people from various disciplines.The ULI chose the South Capitol site because the D.C. government had earmarked much of the surrounding area for redevelopment. D.C. officials say it is one of the city’s most blighted neighborhoods, because its residences and businesses don’t complement each other and the area is partially cut off from surrounding neighborhoods by the elevated Southeast-Southwest Freeway.The teams visited the site last month and were given extensive literature on the area, including information on the District’s overall goals for economic development. Mayor Anthony A. Williams has said he wants to attract 100,000 new residents and has backed redevelopment projects across the city, including the Anacostia waterfront.The MIT students will present a proposal to create a series of diverse neighborhoods and open space to connect the Anacostia River to Capitol Hill. The plan calls for flexibility for the neighborhood to grow and change. Team members say they have not set aside specific plots of land for specific purposes.”We tried to get away from the dictatorial design of development,” said MIT team member Carolina Simon, who is studying urban planning in MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning.Most teams said they tried to recapture Pierre L’Enfant’s vision for the District, which called for South Capitol Street to be a major thoroughfare.University of Pennsylvania team members said they would revive L’Enfant’s plan for a diagonal street design for the District, and would use the four streets stemming from the intersection of South Capitol and M streets to spur revitalization.Harvard students said they wanted to shape the area into a place for hip, single people and young couples, using the existing clubs to drive development. The team said it hopes to attract a “creative class” of people by developing affordable housing of all types.”There really is no community that exists there,” said team member Kirsten Garcia, a student in the college’s Graduate School of Design. “What it’s going to take for people to move into the area is a variety of housing options.”USC team members said they also will include the existing clubs in the development, and have studied architectural designs to reduce noise and keep it from spreading into residential areas. The USC team emphasized open space to encourage mingling among residents and businesses.”We strongly believe people need social interaction,” said Johnny Lu, a graduate student in the school of architecture. “We believe it’s important to have that to improve the quality of life.”Each team was charged with drawing up a redevelopment proposal as well as determining the plan’s economic feasibility. Because of this, each team has members with business and finance experience, some pursuing master’s degrees.”There’s been a lot of good comments from everyone, but tying it together has been the key,” said Richard Moh, a master’s student at Penn’s Wharton School of Business.The business aspect of the proposals will be key because teams will be judged on how easily their plans could be implemented.”We will be looking for the proposal that does the most for the city and is the most realizable,” said Robert Larson, chairman of Lazard Freres Estate Investors LLC and chairman of the jury. “But we will certainly be looking at the creative side of the proposals.”For teams, finding a balance between creativity and practicality has been one of the bigger challenges.”We did not want to do a business-as-usual type of strategy,” said Miss Simon, of MIT. “We’re trying to find a common link between business-as-usual and our own progressive way of thinking. The challenge here is to have a progressive idea, but make it feasible,” she said.

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