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January 11, 2017  |  permalink

Judging AECOM’s Urban SOS Awards


Each year, the architecture, engineering, construction, and services firm AECOM — the people you call when you need an Olympics or an aerotropolis built from scratch — hosts a student design competition named Urban SOS. This year’s installment, held in conjunction with New York’s Van Alen Institute and the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities initiative, was titled “Fair Share.” Each of the four multidisciplinary finalists grappled with creating a “sharing economy” prototype that lives up to its name — unlike AirBnB or Uber. (Click on the archived livestream below to see me get into it with my fellow judges about Uber around the 50:00 mark.)

After intense deliberations with my fellow judges following the teams’ final presentations on January 10th at AECOM’s headquarters in Los Angeles, we selected “First Class Meal,” a proposal for repurposing closed and underutilized United States Post Offices as neighborhood food distribution centers in food deserts. Created by a team of architecture and public health students at St. Louis’ Washington University, they’ll receive a cash prize and $25,000 of in-kind work from AECOM to make the project a reality. The competition’s official press release is after the jump.

LOS ANGELES (Jan. 12, 2017) — AECOM and Van Alen Institute, with 100 Resilient Cities — Pioneered by The Rockefeller Foundation, today announced the winner of the Urban SOS: Fair Share student competition, which challenged multidisciplinary student teams around the world to explore the nexus of the sharing economy and urban infrastructure to solve our cities’ most urgent issues.

The winning team, students at Washington University in St. Louis, proposed reusing United States Postal Service (USPS) post offices slated for closure and their underutilized distribution network to help collect, store, and redistribute surplus food to neighborhoods with limited food access. Team members included Irum Javed, Anu Samarajiva and Lanxi Zhang, students in public health, architecture/urban design and landscape architecture/urban design. The team will receive a cash prize in addition to implementation support from AECOM.

“The caliber of this year’s entries was exemplary, and we were challenged to select a single winner,” said Stephen Engblom, senior vice president and global director of AECOM Cities. “We were inspired to see how these student teams merged the shared economy with urban infrastructure to respond to some of the most challenging issues in the world today. The winning team, First Class Meal, addressed the food desert issue, which is so critical to many of our cities and really resonated with our jury members based in Los Angeles, who are keenly interested in helping to implement the team’s concept.”

The student teams pitched their proposals to a live audience and a jury of 10 leading professionals from the design, government, business, and tech sectors at AECOM’s office in downtown Los Angeles, including Bill Hanway, executive vice president/global sports leader, AECOM; David van der Leer, executive director, Van Alen Institute; Josh Emig, head of research & development, WeWork; Greg Lindsay, senior fellow, New Cities Foundation; Leah Hanes, executive director, Two Bit Circus; Marissa Aho, chief resilience officer, City of Los Angeles, and 100 Resilient Cities representative; Shahram Mehraban, marketing director, Intel; Skylar Olsen, senior economist, Zillow; Stephen Engblom, senior vice president/global director of Cities, AECOM; and Vince Bertoni, director of planning, City of Los Angeles.

The jury also selected the following teams to receive honors:

2nd place: En Común(a) — Quito, Ecuador: creates a website in partnership with residents in dozens of Quito’s communes to map needs and resources, and develop a new cooperative to promote local farmers in one of the city’s main public markets.

3rd place: WELP (Waste-Help System) — Durban, South Africa: connects households that want to dispose of bulk waste with waste collectors who earn income and gain access to temporary housing for removing the waste.

Honorable mention: The Living City — Athens, Greece: brings together refugees, long-time residents and tourists to activate abandoned buildings and vacant lots with pop-up restaurants and markets.

Urban SOS: Fair Share invited students to combine physical design with the tools and technologies of the sharing economy to create more equitable access to resources, envision more sustainable built environments, and enrich the lives of urban residents. AECOM, a premier, fully integrated global infrastructure firm, launched Urban SOS in 2009 to address significant urban challenges, and for the last two years has partnered with Van Alen Institute, a design nonprofit with a 120-plus-year history of organizing design competitions.

“Cities today face opportunities and challenges that require holistic, interdisciplinary solutions,” said David van der Leer, executive director of Van Alen Institute. “We were proud to guide some of tomorrow’s thought leaders to imagine such creative visions for the future of urban life and public space.”

“This year’s finalist teams addressed some of the most pressing resilience challenges facing cities today, including mitigating economic and social impacts of the global refugee crisis, creating access to housing and jobs, providing healthy food to neighborhoods with limited food access deserts, and fostering connectivity to critical social and economic resources,” said Michael Berkowitz, president of 100 Resilient Cities. “The students’ ideas have real potential to change how cities address these issues in the years ahead.”

Student teams from 31 countries worldwide submitted proposals. Qualified submittals were vigorously reviewed by prestigious panels of global experts from academia, urban planning, design, technology and architecture from public and private sectors through juries held in Hong Kong, Sydney, New York and London, as well as the final jury held in Los Angeles.

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Greg Lindsay is a journalist, urbanist, futurist, and speaker. He is a senior fellow at NewCities and the director of strategy of its offshoot LA CoMotion — an annual urban mobility festival in the Arts District of Los Angeles. He is also a non-resident senior fellow of The Atlantic Council’s Foresight, Strategy, and Risks Initiative, a visiting scholar at New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy & Management, a contributing writer for Fast Company and co-author of Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next.

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