Saturday, August 29, 2009

My Summer at the Urban Land Institute: Solar Cities and the Year 2050

So I figure I have been back home in Guilford long enough and I should let you know what I was doing this summer in Washington, D.C. For two months (all of June and July) I was interning at the Urban Land Institute, an urban design and real estate development nonprofit organization focused on promoting responsible land-use policies. The mission of ULI is to "provide leadership in the responsible use of land and in creating and sustaining thriving communities worldwide." ULI boasts a membership base of over 40,000 professionals (including architects, developers, planners, realtors, etc.), has district councils across the country, and offices around the globe. It was a very engaging and dynamic place to work because there were dozens of projects taking place on subjects ranging from infrastructure and affordable housing to sustainable development and economic recovery strategies. The office itself was LEED-CI (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design - Commercial Interiors) certified, reflecting ULI's commitment to the environment.

As far as my internship was concerned, I was splitting time between their Information Group (publications) and Initiatives Group (progressive urban think tank). In general, my ULI managers were great about giving me a high level of responsibility and autonomy in the office and they trusted me to respond appropriately in my work. Everyone has heard the usual intern coffee-run and copy-making horror stories, and fortunately my time at ULI could not have been more different.

I was working on two main projects throughout the course of the summer. My first task was to write up a case study for the Developments section of ULI's monthly magazine, Urban Land. Specifically, I was researching Babcock Ranch, a planned sustainable city designed by Kitson & Partners to be powered exclusively by the sun. The development will boast the world's largest photovoltaic facility (75 megawatts), a renewable technology mecca Syd Kitson, Chairman and CEO of the real estate development company, hopes will attract greentech companies and create a living laboratory for innovation. In his words, Babock Ranch will be a "place where businesses, universities, and government can test, and implement, its best ideas for the future.” Listen to Kitson talk about "Southwest Florida's City of Tomorrow" and watch an amazing computer rendered walkthrough of the development in the video embedded below (make sure to watch it in high quality!). This case study was exciting to put together because I was granted an in-depth look at a development that could very well change the composition of this country's urban fabric.

The Babcock Ranch marina and town center.

A view from the (solar panel-covered) rooftops.

Sid Kitson, Chairman and CEO of Kitson & Partners, guides
us on a virtual tour of Babcock Ranch

This summer I also worked to update The City in 2050 exhibit and companion publication, the former of which debuted last October at ULI's annual Fall Meeting and Urban Land Expo in Miami. The exhibit serves as a diagnostic analysis that identifies the social, economic, and environmental challenges our world will face in the next 40 years and how urban centers can be the cradles for solutions to those problems. Last year's material was especially US-centric though, and as the exhibit will soon travel internationally (first to the Middle East in early October for Cityscape Dubai, the largest real estate development conference in the world), I was in charge of spearheading the initial research and collecting data a global audience can relate to. It was incredible to know that my efforts on this project were greatly contributing to a forward-thinking urban initiative. Listen to ULI Worldwide President Rick Rosan speak about The City in 2050 project and view images from the exhibit below:

(If you have questions about these two projects or would like some more information about them, please let me know!)

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