Fresh ideas about design
Many of our staff have been involved in the Urban Land Institute (ULI). This is a volunteer organization comprised of real estate professionals, planners, architects, and corresponding legal and financial disciplines. The mission of ULI is to “provide leadership in the responsible use of land, and in creating and sustaining thriving communities worldwide.”
Recently, I had the opportunity to serve on a ULI Advisory Services Panel. The Advisory Services Program originated in 1947, and ULI conducts 15–20 of these panels annually on a variety of land use subjects. The format is simple: compile a seasoned, seven member team with each member bringing a particular expertise, and give them one week to analyze an urban design issue and try to identify the best solution. The week ends with a formal presentation, which is open to the community, often including politicians, business leaders, community organizations, media, etc., as well as the sponsor itself.
The sponsor of this panel was Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU). RDU is a midsize airport in terms of passenger flights, and a very small airport in terms of cargo flights. Macroeconomic trends show that fewer and fewer airlines are providing fewer flights, the majority of which are increasingly concentrated in a handful of airports identified as “hubs.” Air cargo flights are expected to rise, and rise dramatically, but that mainly benefits the “hubs.” This places pressure on all midsize airports to diversify their non-aeronautical revenues and to consider revenue-generating possibilities beyond the traditional means of parking fees, food and beverage, shopping, and the like. In the case of RDU, we came to see that the opportunity could be dramatic.
RDU benefits from its location between Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill; and from the strength of the region’s economy. Demographics show that it is one of the fastest growing areas for 20-30 year olds, and is home to many companies in the established and emerging “Knowledge Economy” sectors such as biomedical engineering, computer programming, and advanced manufacturing. Our analysis showed that some of this economic development potential could be captured by RDU, but it would have to be high-quality development to appeal in this competitive marketplace.
There are roughly 2,000 acres of land adjacent to the airport that had been identified as excess (not needed for current or projected future aviation purposes). These parcels, although presenting challenges such as wetlands, topographic changes, and heavily wooded conditions, were found to be beautiful. There were two in particular that we identified as strong long-term development opportunities. Our recommendation was to utilize the natural features of the land as assets to build around and to create mixed-use “high performance” districts that would feature green building technologies, district-wide stormwater design, low impacts, and active mitigation for the natural edges.
It was a pleasure to work simultaneously with professionals from other disciplines within the real estate development field. Though the week was long and a lot of hard work, it was an experience I have benefited greatly from.
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