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Design and Business Graduate Students Enter Prestigious Urban Design Contest

UC graduate students in architecture, planning and business recently teamed up to enter an urban design competition to re-envision a downtown Nashville neighborhood. If selected as the winning entry, the UC team would earn a $50,000 prize.

Date: 2/24/2014 12:00:00 AM
By: M.B. Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Provided

UC ingot   University of Cincinnati students hope they hit the right note with their entry into the 12th annual Urban Land Institute Gerald D. Hines Urban Design Competition. This year’s challenge was to re-envision a neighborhood in downtown Nashville, a municipality also known as Music City.

Students who led in UC’s entry to the contest were
  • Gretchen Keillor, graduate student in community planning, led the project.
  • Luke Sinopoli, graduate student in architecture, served as the project’s design leader.
  • Aaron Guttman, graduate student in the real estate certificate program
  • Ken Ko, graduate student in architecture
  • Drew Suszko, graduate student in architecture and an MBA student
    At work in studio.
    The UC group at work.

In the effort, the UC team was supported by Carla Chifos, associate professor of planning in the UC College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP), with help from architect, master planner and urban designer John Ritter, a UC alumnus who earned both a master’s of architecture and a master’s in business administration here. Ritter is currently with local design and project management firm Chameleon Architecture. Also assisting with the project was Shaun Bond, professor of finance and director of UC’s Real Estate Center in the Carl H. Lindner College of Business.

In a recent two-week period, this UC team examined and made detailed design, planning and economic suggestions for a Nashville neighborhood known as Sulphur Dell, a formerly industrial area adjacent to the very center of Nashville’s downtown where its historical Capitol building is located. The area has a lot of potential because of its location near the state Capitol complex, its well-known farmer’s market, proximity to the riverfront and, importantly, a new minor league ballpark going up.

Because that stadium will be a focal point but used for baseball games for only 80 days a year, the UC students suggested integrating other neighborhood events and amenities with and into the stadium. For instance, the stadium could serve as home base for music festivals; provide space for other, community-oriented sports; host movie nights in the infield and even Fourth of July celebrations.

The UC team also made suggestions for creating a walkable neighborhood (including a pedestrian mall connecting the neighborhood and the river) with LEED (leadership in energy & environmental design) certified building renovations/construction with both affordable and market-rate housing as well as office and commercial enterprises (like a flagship grocery) in mid-rise buildings.
Gretchen Keillor
UC's Gretchen Keillor

According to Gretchen Keillor, 27, a master’s of community planning student from Kent, Ohio, the students suggested that the overall resiliency and vibrancy of the neighborhood would be increased if each block “had everything you need within a 15-minute walk, things like retail, restaurants and a convenience store. Each block must succeed on its own even while integrating with the focal point of the new minor-league stadium.”

That block-by-block recipe for success would insulate the neighborhood should the baseball stadium eventually move or even fail to prosper in terms of drawing spectators.

UC’s participation in the competition was the brainchild of Keillor. She explained, “I asked other students to participate because it offered a great opportunity to meet a challenge. Here we have a site that we could seek to make work on the local level for the residents and, in turn, make it work for the city as a whole because of its proximity to the state Capitol complex.”

Drew Suszko, 30, a master’s of architecture student and a master’s of business administration student from the Cincinnati neighborhood of Montgomery, explained that he wanted to participate in the contest because it offered a realistic, pragmatic challenge.

He explained, “People increasingly live in cities, and the move to urban areas will likely continue as a broad trend. So, in these urban areas, residents need access to healthy options in terms of food and exercise like walking. These neighborhoods need to function on an everyday basis, and we were able to suggest means for doing that in our entry.”
 UC’s Chifos agreed, stating, “For our advanced students, the contest provides an opportunity to test their skills against their peers nationally. In addition, this is the kind of work they’ll do and the kinds of decisions they’ll have to make in the profession. So, it was both a learning opportunity and a showcase for our students.”

Four finalist entries will be selected in the Urban Land Institute Gerald D. Hines Urban Design Competition, which is open to teams of graduate students in the United States and Canada. Those finalist teams will travel to Sulphur Dell and after visiting the site, will have the opportunity to revise and perfect their community design plans in the effort to win the $50,000 winning prize. Finalists should be announced this spring. There is no expectation that any of the entries will actually be applied to the site.