A bird’s eye view of West Palm Beach shows the city’s urban core, including South Olive Street and Clematis Street.
Chris Fay A bird’s eye view of West Palm Beach shows the city’s urban core, including South Olive Street and Clematis Street.

Shore to Core is the new competition in the architecture and urban planning realm that combines both design and research to improve a community. Collaboratively launched by New York nonprofit organization the Van Alen Institute and West Palm Beach Community Redevelopment Agency, based out of West Palm Beach, Fla., it aims to understand how West Palm Beach residents better respond to their built environment when an urban core and waterfront area are linked to create a more cohesive city. The approach by the organizations is to select three teams, two of which would specialize in design and the third in research, to eventually link the two active, yet separated, areas with the tools they come up with in this multidisciplinary project. From there, they hope to integrate appropriate aspects into other cities.

“Obviously no one size fits all for any city,” says Jessica Lax, associate director of competitions for the Van Alen Institute. But by observing how the residents of the city and its visitors benefit, the Van Alen Institute eventually hopes to bring parts of the framework developed through this competition to other areas with similar elements.

For the New York nonprofit, this competition brings a series of firsts, in regards to both its location and subject matter. In the past, the Van Alen Institute has primarily held competitions that focus on the Northeast or South, such as Future Ground in New Orleans and Changing Course in the Lower Mississippi River Delta region, whereas now it is focused on creating a framework for a coastal community that links to its downtown core. It is also the first research competition the organization has held, although it has a research department built into the organization (the other departments are public programs and design competitions).

ER Bradley’s parking lot on Datura Street between Flagler Avenue and Narcissus Avenue supports local surf businesses.
Chris Fay ER Bradley’s parking lot on Datura Street between Flagler Avenue and Narcissus Avenue supports local surf businesses.

Shore to Core also addresses common assumptions people may have about the community’s population. “People think of West Palm Beach as a large retirement community, which is true—but there’s a lot more going on,” says Lax. “There are a lot of young people in their 20s and 30s moving there who work [professionally] in the creative fields. There’s also a large Black and Hispanic population. It’s a bit more diverse than people normally think of,” says Lax. According to the demographics data released by the Census Bureau of December 2015, West Palm Beach has one of the largest proportions of people aged 60-69, accounting for about 11% of the population. However, residents in their 20s also account for roughly 16 percent. In regards to race, an April 2010 population census taken by the United States Census Bureau found that Black and Hispanic residents make up about 50 percent of the city's population.

The design teams entering the competition must contain at least one designer (whose discipline can be architecture, landscape architecture, urban design, or planning), and entry guidelines suggest including other colleagues with a focus in economic development, environmental psychology, resilience, placemaking, and social sciences.

To back up the benefits of urban design, the competition is also including a call for a research team to look at relationships between the built environment and the well-being of individuals and communities. The winning team will be developed into a pilot research study in West Palm Beach next year. Team members should include at least one environmental psychologist or neuroscientist and is encouraged to include members with expertise in the social sciences, as well as designers. The winning teams, selected by a 10-person jury panel, will then work with the West Palm Beach Community Redevelopment Agency to implement the first phase of their proposals.

Selections for the two finalist design teams will be made in early September, and each will receive a $45,000 stipend. One research team will be selected that will receive a $40,000 stipend. From there, all of the teams will be give three months to develop their proposals, which will be display in an exhibition in 2017.

The jury panel will be chaired by David van der Leer, executive director of the Van Alen Institute, and will include Colin Ellard, associate professor at the University of Waterloo; Patrick Franklin, president and CEO at the Urban League of Palm Beach County; Jerri Muoio, mayor of the City of West Palm Beach, Fla.; Penni Redford, sustainability manager of West Palm Beach; Terence Riley, principal of New York-based firm Keenen/Riley (K/R); Jon Ward, executive director of West Palm Beach Community Redevelopment Agency; Lilly Weinberg, director of community foundations at Miami-based creative arts initiative the Knight Foundation; Claire Weisz, founding principal at New York-based design firm WXY Studio; and Nancy Wells, an environmental psychologist associate professor at Cornell University.

This article has been updated from its earlier version.