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Taming the unzoned: Houston planning efforts honored by Urban Land Institute

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News_Urban Land Institute Houston_awards_January 2012_Jamail Skatepark
Jamail Skatepark Photo by © Geoffrey Lyon
News_Urban Land Institute Houston_awards_January 2012_YMCA Downtown
Tellepsen Family YMCA Downtown Courtesy of Urban Land Institute Houston
News_Urban Land Institute Houston_awards_January 2012_Wortham Theater Interior
Wortham Theater Interior Courtesy of Urban Land Institute Houston
News_Urban Land Institute Houston_awards_January 2012_NBaker_Courthouse
NBaker_Courthouse Photo by © Nash Baker Studios
News_Urban Land Institute Houston_awards_January 2012_Wortham Theater Escalator
Wortham Theater Escalator Courtesy of Urban Land Institute Houston
News_Urban Land Institute Houston_awards_January 2012_Mandolin Gardens Park
Mandolin Gardens Park Courtesy of Urban Land Institute Houston
News_Urban Land Institute Houston_awards_January 2012_Wortham Exterior
Wortham Exterior Photo by © Geoffrey Lyon
News_Urban Land Institute Houston_awards_January 2012_Market Square Park_Niko Nikos
Market Square Park, highlighting Niko Niko's Courtesy of Urban Land Institute Houston
News_Urban Land Institute Houston_awards_January 2012_Market Square Park_Lauren's Garden_night
Lauren's Garden, a 9/11 memorial, at Market Square Park Courtesy of Urban Land Institute Houston
News_Urban Land Institute Houston_awards_January 2012_Houston Permitting
Houston Permitting Photo by Paul Hester/© 2011 Hester + Hardaway
News_Urban Land Institute Houston_awards_January 2012_Gulfgate
Gulfgate Courtesy of Urban Land Institute Houston
News_Urban Land Institute Houston_awards_January 2012_CityCentre
CityCentre Courtesy of Urban Land Institute Houston
News_Urban Land Institute Houston_awards_January 2012_Jamail Skatepark
News_Urban Land Institute Houston_awards_January 2012_YMCA Downtown
News_Urban Land Institute Houston_awards_January 2012_Wortham Theater Interior
News_Urban Land Institute Houston_awards_January 2012_NBaker_Courthouse
News_Urban Land Institute Houston_awards_January 2012_Wortham Theater Escalator
News_Urban Land Institute Houston_awards_January 2012_Mandolin Gardens Park
News_Urban Land Institute Houston_awards_January 2012_Wortham Exterior
News_Urban Land Institute Houston_awards_January 2012_Market Square Park_Niko Nikos
News_Urban Land Institute Houston_awards_January 2012_Market Square Park_Lauren's Garden_night
News_Urban Land Institute Houston_awards_January 2012_Houston Permitting
News_Urban Land Institute Houston_awards_January 2012_Gulfgate
News_Urban Land Institute Houston_awards_January 2012_CityCentre
Crystal Ballroom at Rice Lofts
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The Houston chapter of the Urban Land Institute is dolling out the accolades Tuesday night for its annual Development of Distinction Awards, honoring nine projects not only for innovations in design and construction, but for balancing real-life challenges like economic viability and environmental sustainability.

Taking place in the Crystal Ballroom at the Rice Lofts, the sold-out 2012 awards event will celebrate both newly-built efforts like the Tellepsen Family YMCA and the CityCentre complex as well as the fresh takes on historical sites like the revamped Market Square Park and the mid-century Gulfgate Shopping Center.

 "It's interesting to see how zoning can be a part of planning, or, as in Houston's case, sometimes not," said Yale urban planning professor Alexander Garvin.

 "This award honors developments that make a positive impact on their surroundings and their larger communities," ULI Houston officer Greg Erwin, head of the real estate development for Winstead Attorneys, said in a statement. "Our aim is to encourage more developers to imitate these best practices.”

To select the nominees, ULI Houston assembled a panel of area real estate and architectural experts, including City of Houston housing and community development director James Noteware and Patricia Oliver, dean of the UH's architecture program.

Here are the nominees in their four respective categories, complete with links to brief video descriptions from ULI Houston.

For profit

Not for profit

  • Mandolin Gardens — mosquito-infested retention pond converted into an eco-friendly park
  • Market Square Park —19th century Downtown landmark reimagined for the 21st
  • Tellepsen Family YMCA — ultra-modern architecture serving growing populations in Downtown and Midtown 

Heritage

Honorable mentions

  • Lee & Joe Jamail Skatepark — world-class facility free and open to the public
  • Houston Permitting Center — 1920s rice warehouse revamped into a low-energy city building

Late last year, a small team of judges from across the country traveled to Houston to tour the nominated sites and vet the final winners. The panel decides how many awards will be given and in which categories.

"These are all exemplars of successful planning in Houston," judge Alexander Garvin told CultureMap in an interview at La Carafe following his tour of Market Square. "It's interesting to see how zoning can be a part of planning, or, as in Houston's case, sometimes not."

"It's surprising to see how much the projects differs from one another," said Garvin, who is an adjunct professor of urban planning at Yale University and president of the design firm AGA Public Realm Strategists. "Nevertheless, each site alters the urban landscape for the better, transforming the area in its own unique way."

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