Efforts by ULI members to engage with a broad range of innovators who influence urban development was evident in the selection of internationally acclaimed artist and urban planner Theaster Gates as the 2018 recipient of the Institute’s J.C. Nichols Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development. The annual prize, which is ULI’s highest honor, recognizes an individual who has made a distinguished contribution to community building globally, who has established visionary standards of excellence in the land use and development field, and whose commitment to creating the highest-quality built environment has led to the betterment of society.
Gates’s rise to prominence began with his use of art and culture to revive underserved neighborhoods in his hometown of Chicago. His creative approach to revitalizing neglected urban neighborhoods—including the reuse of building materials and other items to transform vacant properties into usable space—is what earned him the Nichols Prize. His studies in urban planning and sculpture have informed and inspired his work, which began on Chicago’s South Side, where he founded the Rebuild Foundation to transform neighborhoods and celebrate innovative artistic practices.
“My work has always aimed to revitalize forgotten spaces and, in doing so, bring together communities that have felt forgotten,” Gates said. “The incredible thing that happens when you revitalize those spaces, preserving elements of their history and infusing them with new purpose, is that you create a platform for communities to participate in their own revitalization. I’m honored to receive this award from ULI—an organization that understands how spaces can, and should, be empowering.”