SGPIA Alum Named Semi-Finalist in International Urban Design Challenge

Published on October 23, 2017

Earlier this month, SGPIA Alum Melissa De La Cruz (Development, ‘17) and her two teammates, Ann Le and Angela DeGeorge, reached the semi-finals of hOUR City, the 2017 Urban SOS™ student ideas competition (presented by AECOM and Van Alen Institute, with 100 Resilient Cities and the Rockefeller Foundation). The competition considers the historical notion that city boundaries were defined by how far people could travel in one hour. Multi-disciplinary teams of students were challenged to “reimagine these boundaries,” and “to consider new ways for urban, suburban, and rural communities to connect to opportunity.” Competitors were required to include a physical intervention located within one of the 100 Resilient Cities. 

Of her two Parsons graduate student teammates, Ann Le (M.Arch + MFA Lighting Design) and Angela DeGeorge (M.Arch), De La Cruz says, “They are amazing! I can’t say it enough. They reached out to me in early June, and we began working on the project intensively in July.” Over the summer, the team divided their time amongst other projects and responsibilities, and began working on their proposal. Le works for Bernheimer Architecture in Brooklyn, De La Cruz  for the Bloomberg Aspen Institute Autonomous Vehicle Initiative, while DeGeorge was completing a renovation for the Children’s Museum of the Arts in TriBeCa. Their busy schedules meant that work on the project was done late at night and on weekends, over a steady diet of waffles and shared home-made meals.

Contestants Ann Le, Angela DeGeorge, and Melissa De La Cruz, have been chosen as semifinalists in the 2017 Urban SOS™ competition, hOUR City.

“The competition and the process of producing this proposal has just been a really great learning experience. One of the best things about the project is that we did not rush into the proposal. We spent at least two weeks just brainstorming on the weekends, and talking through the competition brief,” De La Cruz says. One of the most important decisions was choosing a city as the focus for their proposal. “New York would have been an easy pick, but we eventually chose [Washington] D.C. because Angela had lived there for three years, and was familiar with the locale and transit behaviors.”

Using a combination of intense data collection, phone interviews with prospective clients (including family and friends who provided useful feedback), and a growing collection of post-its, they arrived at an idea. The team proposed ‘LibWork’—a combination of telework and the library as public infrastructure—to answer their proposed question, “What if people did not need to travel to the city as often?” Drawing from their own experience as graduate students, they recognized that, given the chance, most people would prefer to work remotely. De La Cruz explained, “More broadly, we thought then about commuters who spend countless hours on the road, only to be exhausted once they reach their offices. We wanted to flip that idea and put people in places where they are comfortable, and where they can also connect with their community members.”

A schematic of how the team’s proposal, “LibWork,” could be implemented. This image is part of the larger project proposal submitted in the earlier stages of the competition.

Their innovative idea was celebrated, and is featured on the front page of the semi-finalist web site. However, there is still much work to be done. The team is competing against 15 other semi-finalists from around the world, proposing diverse projects. There are teams looking at reclaiming abandoned shelters into housing and assistance for homeless Londoners; creating bike lanes to connect rural to urban residents in Bangkok; and suggesting a new form of middle-term accommodation for workers who commute weekly to satellite cities in China, among other intriguing ideas. “We are in the semi-finals now, and revising our proposal to be reviewed by four international juries in Hong Kong, London, New York, and Sydney. We will know in mid-November if we made it to the final presentation, hosted in Los Angeles in January next year.”

The SGPIA community wishes them luck (and victory), and if anyone can help refine their proposal, it is certain the team would appreciate the help.

Melissa De La Cruz completed an MA International Affairs in August 2017 with a concentration in Development. She enjoys problem solving, and her body of work is defined by the urban. In April 2017, she began working for the Bloomberg Aspen Institute Autonomous Vehicle Initiative, an organization attempting to better understand how autonomous vehicles will shape the future of cities. In addition, she coordinates an urban resilience research project in 6 Latin American cities for the Global Urban Futures Project at The New School, with Professor Michael Cohen.

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