DCRP in the Urban Land Institute Hines Student Competition

Each year, the Urban Land Institute conducts the annual Hines Student Competition — an opportunity for graduate students students across the country to form teams and create a visionary land use development design for a site in a North American city.  Each team of five must have members representing at least three different disciplines. Teams have two weeks to produce graphics and written analysis supporting their design and market decisions. The most recent competition in January focused on a site in Toronto, Canada.  

Colleen Durfee and Sarah Parkins, both second-year DCRP Masters students and participants in this year’s competition, agreed to share some of their experiences and observations from the event.  


What schools and disciplines were represented on your team?

Colleen: My team included students from DCRP and NC State.

Sarah: We had two students from UNC DCRP representing concentrations in housing and community development and economic development; one student getting her Masters in landscape architecture from State; and one student getting her Masters in Architecture at State. One of the best things about our team was that it an all-female team.


What were the main objectives of your team’s proposal?

Colleen: Develop the area as a connector/bridge between the downtown to the East and inner ring residential to the North and West. Provide services and amenities to the local community that can add value to the space we were developing. Bring in film industry professionals and educational institutions to learn from each other and grow from cluster development. Provide additional residential space.

Sarah: Our proposal titled TOD+ worked to deliver a mixed-use development centered around people in transition. Sited at the nexus of several new districts, it does not compete with their distinct identities, but rather facilitates the growth of people who live or work in the surrounding neighborhoods or are simply passing through.

As a gateway city that embraces cultural diversity and is expecting a significant increase in immigration, Toronto will need to facilitate the smooth transition of its diverse newcomers. TOD+ supports this notion by offering a range of affordable housing options and institutional support services that cater to immigrants resettling in Toronto.

As the supply of rental housing continues to be outpaced by demand, TOD+ also focuses on providing affordable housing options to aging millennials, encouraging them to remain in the urban core as they transition through different life stages. The largest component of TOD+ is multi-generational housing that embodies 8 to 80 principles.

In support of Toronto’s identity as a prominent hub of tourism and commerce, TOD+ further establishes a seamless experience for Toronto’s many short-term visitors who are temporarily settling in the city for business or pleasure. TOD+ offers both traditional and experimental hotel options that serve business professionals visiting nearby East Harbour and provides an immersive cultural experience to curious adventurers eager to explore downtown or the outlying neighborhoods.

To accomplish these goals, TOD+ reclaims the lost space of this flood-prone site by creating an elevated platform that spans from the western side of Broadview Avenue to the Don River.

TOD+ team design.  Photo Credit: Sarah Parkins

Describe some of the opportunities and limitations of working with the Toronto site.

Colleen: We experienced limits to the kind and amount of data we needed. Additionally, we were not familiar with how public/municipal financing works in Canada or where to find needed data and information.

Sarah: This was the first year that the ULI Hines competition took place outside of the US, which caused a lot of limitations. Our training about zoning, planning tools, financing modeling and sources, and building codes have taken place within the context of the US, so we had to go through a crash course on the political, social, economic, and financial environment of Toronto in about a week. However, the great part of this competition is that no idea can be too big.  So while we were trying to consider those world real factors, we also got to make some pretty big design decisions, like capping the highway and building a huge underground park that takes on water during floods; something you probably couldn’t normally propose for a development.


How did your training at DCRP and your experience as a planner inform your team’s design?

Colleen: I knew somewhat where to find the data I needed but it was still difficult, and I felt like I had to make some pretty huge assumptions I was not terribly comfortable with.

Sarah: My role was really unique in terms of coming on as a DCRP student because I also have a degree in architecture from my undergrad, so my experience as team leader was really as a bridge between the designers and the planners. I was able to look at the project from both of these sides, consider the economic strategies that would work best for us, and deal with issues about land acquisition and programming a mixed-use development while also helping to envision what our site would physically look like through design. I honestly can say that I used a little bit of everything I’ve learned from DCRP during this competition, including topics from my affordable housing classes to transportation classes.

What was your greatest learning experience from the process?

Colleen: I learned how to do a pro forma, and I learned a lot about the design process, about how it is iterative, and how when it is compressed, you don’t have the time you need to marinate with an idea. Rushing through it does not necessarily bring about the most creative results for groups, and I think that is part of why they compress the competition timeline. I think we would have benefited from being able to think through things without the stress of the limited time, but overall I loved working with landscape architects and seeing our ideas visually.

Sarah: Personally, this opportunity was a great way to combine all my skills from a degree in architecture with the skills from my master’s degree. I got to practice the skills needed to think through an urban redevelopment strategy, considering the financial analysis while also including programming and placemaking concepts. But I also got to make renderings and drawings that represented the design of the project.

It was also great to practice how to communicate between different disciplines. There were definitely barriers between our planners and our designers, so it was challenging trying to bridge that gap and have everyone on the team learn from each other’s disciplines.

This was a great opportunity and I really recommend it to any students who are interested in real estate development or urban design. It was a lot of work, but it was absolutely worth it.


Visit the ULI website for more information on the Hines Student Competition.

Featured Image: View of the main competition site in Toronto.  Photo Credit: Urban Land Institute