ULI Atlanta Blog

Fostering Interdisciplinary Connections To Advance Atlanta

A Participant’s Perspective On ULI’s Center For Leadership

Jessica Florez, Perkins+Will

By Jessica Florez, Perkins+Will

Since moving to Atlanta in 2000, the city has been home and the base of my career as an urban designer.  While I’ve participated in major projects here such as the Turner Field Neighborhoods LCI and the District 3 Westside Revive, my work has taken me everywhere from Kentucky to Kuwait.  Still, it wasn’t until participating in the Urban Land Institute’s Center for Leadership program in Atlanta that I got a full appreciation for the unique future which our City’s built environment coupled with an ecosystem of interdisciplinary expertise and resources can create.

ULI’s program brings together rising professionals from architecture, design, development, real estate financing, urban planning and a range of related disciplines.  It then runs participants, like me, through a gauntlet of training experiences that steep us in Atlanta’s economic development, sustainability, resilience, housing, transportation, design and construction issues.  Equally important, the program builds professional relationships and understanding.

The ULI leadership program’s mini Technical Assistance Panel (mTAP) provided us with a chance to put our knowledge into action by providing analysis and advice with a local organization tackling a critical Atlanta regional issue.

My mTAP team was a small diverse group focused on assisting the Atlanta Land Trust – a non-profit created to maintain affordability in neighborhoods at risk of gentrification and displacement due in part to the development patterns along the Atlanta BeltLine.

Atlanta Land Trust has a goal of creating 1,000 affordable housing units within the next ten years primarily in the BeltLine Planning Area. So how will they do that? First, they need to prioritize neighborhoods within the planning area and then create land acquisition criteria for specific sites within those communities.  Our team’s job was to create a selection tool to facilitate the process.

We developed a three-step model for prioritizing properties to purchase. The first step focuses on assessing the basics of whether or not a parcel is zoned to support residential, if it is in walking distance of a MARTA station, and/or if it can be affordably acquired, among other criteria. Step two looks at context – if a residence were built on the plot what kind of access would it have to food, jobs, parks, amenities, and other forms of public transit other than heavy rail? It also looks at other aspects such as gentrification vulnerability and environmental constraints. The third step focuses on execution.

The tool relies heavily on GIS (Geographical Information System) data for the first two steps of the assessment. The next step of the process is to fully develop the software that will allow the Atlanta Land Trust to work with updated data moving forward. To that end, the Atlanta Land Trust submitted a request through ARC’s Community Development Assistance Program (CDAP) to provide technical assistance in developing the software, based on the criteria that our mTAP team designed.

The mTAP initiative showed me the depth of analysis that goes into making smart, effective affordable housing decisions balancing design, business and community desires. As a designer who is embedded in our community, I continue to be committed to supporting affordable housing in the city and to finding ways to move the needle. There’s not a silver bullet. It requires all of us to just be committed to advancing affordability through a myriad of approaches.  I now realize that’s one of the lessons that ULI Center for Leadership was hoping to impart.


About the Author

Jessica Flórez is an Urban Designer with Perkins+Will’s Atlanta Office.

About my mTAP team:

Ben Reeves, Senior Vice President, Stream Realty Partners

Jennie Lynn Rudder, Landscape Architect, Atlanta Studio Leader, Dix.Hite + Partners

Nathan Soldat, Community Engagement Manager, Atlanta BeltLine, Inc.

Senya Zaitsev, Architect / Developer, Sunny, Etc.


This article originally appeared in the May 13, 2019 edition of the Saporta Report.

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