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As more and more people move to waterfront cities, designers, urban planners and municipal leaders are responsible for redesigning cities so they support health and well-being. Many cities often focus only on current needs, but there is growing value in creating healthier spaces that adapt to shifting demographics, changing weather, and sea level rise. Van Alen Institute and the City of West Palm Beach sought to identify these opportunities in their Shore to Core design and research competition. Building from Van Alen’s exploration of public space’s impact on well-being and resiliency, the initiative looks at West Palm Beach as a model waterfront city and asks how we can create healthier, more vibrant cities that are intelligent, flexible, and responsive. The competition teams — Ecosistema Urbano (winning design team), Perkins + Will (finalist design team), and Happier By Design (winning research team) — each created proposals and recommendations on how West Palm Beach can address these challenges.

Shore to Core asks: How can we recreate an urban core so its design is intelligent, flexible, and responsive to the needs of residents and visitors? Many aspects of our lives are shaped by the environments in which we spend our time, and by developing a better understanding of these relationships, we can use design to improve wellbeing in cities.


Raphael Clemente
Executive Director, Downtown West Palm Beach

Colin Ellard
Associate Professor, University of Waterloo – Department of Psychology

Patrick Franklin
President and CEO, Urban League of Palm Beach County

David van der Leer (Jury Chair)
Executive Director, Van Alen Institute

Jeri Muoio
Mayor, City of West Palm Beach

Penni Redford
Sustainability Manager, City of West Palm Beach

Terrence Riley
Principal, K/R

Manuel Clavel Rojo (Substitute for Terrence Riley)
Principal, Clavel Arquitectos

Jon Ward
Executive Director, West Palm Beach Community Redevelopment Agency

Lilly Weinberg
Director of Community Foundations, Knight Foundation

Claire Weisz
Founding Principal, WXY Studio

Nancy Wells
Professor, Cornell University, College of Human Ecology, Design and Environmental Analysis Department

Outside Meyer Amphitheater by Narcissus Street and Evernia Street, two young boys find ways to make the built environment more interactive and engaging.
Local residents meet, shop, and relax - the urban core serves as a place for productivity, errands, and leisure.
Local schoolchildren on a field trip to the local library, while the others rest, mingle, and keep cool under the shade of palm trees.
The West Palm Beach train station is very active during rush hour, but throughout the day, there is ample space to wait for the train in the shade.
West Palm Beach train station is on South Tamarind Avenue and Clematis Street. The Amtrak station connects residents from outlying neighborhoods to the urban core.
North Flagler Drive rests just along the water and is used by many as a scenic walkway and a jogging path.
ER Bradley’s parking lot on Datura Street between Flagler Avenue and Narcissus Avenue supports local surf businesses.
The local farmers market takes place every Saturday on the Great Lawn and always brings in a large crowd. The morning market draws diverse groups and is a place for families to explore together.
A bird’s-eye view of West Palm Beach shows the city’s urban core, including South Olive Street and Clematis Street.

About the Design Competition

Shore to Core is a design competition that looks to create a healthier and more resilient downtown and waterfront in West Palm Beach. The competition asks: How can we reimagine our downtowns to make them more engaging and vibrant? How can cities collect information that informs future adaptation and growth? How can we facilitate social interaction among diverse groups? How can the built environment improve residents’ physical health, mental health, and social capital?

The teams were asked to develop flexible solutions that are adaptive to changing demographics and economies, changes in sea level, and that can facilitate improved civic wellbeing. Over 40 firms submitted proposals, our winning team, Ecosistema Urbano and finalist team, Perkins + Will developed beautiful designs that are both flexible and responsive to the health and wellbeing of residents and visitors.

Winner: Ecosistema Urbano

Open Shore by Ecosistema Urbano

Open Shore imagines the future West Palm Beach as a dynamic and inclusive downtown.

The new waterfront incorporates a wide array of new public spaces and outdoor activities that enhance the urban experience and multiply the possibilities of interaction with the water. This new urban environment blurs the line between the city and the water, bringing the nature of the Lagoon back to the city center while adapting to rise of the sea-level.

The Banyan garage is conceived as a new beacon for activities in Downtown. Designed as a hybrid, flexible and permeable building, being open and accessible to all citizens, it becomes a true part of the city from the ground floor to the public roof terrace. Its bioclimatic design, based on a green permeable façade and two big thematic courtyards—natural and digital—provides pleasant environmental conditions throughout the year while reducing environmental impact and management costs.

To view Ecosistema Urbano’s full proposal click here.

Ecosistema Urbano Team: A multidisciplinary team comprised of principals Belinda Tato and Jose Luis Vallejo; Marco Rizzetto, Carlos León, Antonella Milano, Luisa Zancada, Jorge Toledo, Marta Muñoz, Pablo Santacana, Lola Pouchin, Maria Vittoria Tesei, Andrea Bertrán, Ana Patricia Maté, Lucía De Retes Cascales, Cristina Rodríguez, Elizabeth Kelleher, Lorena Tselemegkou, Luana Scarpel, Silvia Sangriso, Daniela Menendez, Julia Casado, Constantino Hurtado, Andrés Walliser.

Finalist: Perkins + Will

Adapt to Thrive

In the coming decades, cities will face many inevitable social, economic and environmental changes. Populations will grow or shrink, communities will be pulled apart or pushed together, and economies will respond. Coastal cities, like West Palm Beach are especially vulnerable. The likely impacts of climate change – frequent powerful storms and sea level rise – will be felt by coastal cities first. Change is a certainty of the future. How our cities navigate change, however, is not certain.

West Palm Beach will define what it means to be a model coastal city by embracing change with hope and ambition, making smart investments that enhance the quality of people’s lives. The formula for progress is to: 1) think differently about infrastructure, 2) respond incrementally with investment, and 3) dream big about the city you want to live in.

The Perkins + Will proposal transforms West Palm Beach’s waterfront into a dynamic social and environmental space, rethinks the city’s streets and alleys as destinations in their own right – not just conduits for cars – and envisions mundane architecture, like parking infrastructures, as opportunities to create community.

To view Perkins + Will’s full proposal click here.

Perkins+Will Team: Cesar Garcia-Pons, Associate Principal and Senior Designer; Cassie Branum, Senior Associate and Senior Urban Designer; Janice Barnes, Principal and Global Resiliency Director; Gerry Tierney, Associate Principal; W. Thomas Lavash, Managing Principal, WTL+a

Research Competition

About the Research Competition

Shore to Core’s winning research team Happier by Design, was invited to develop a framework to identify, measure, and analyze relationships between the design of the built environment and individuals’ wellbeing. Each person is affected by his or her environment in a variety of ways, and these effects can be studied at a range of scales. Insights from the social sciences, medicine, neuroscience, and other fields have emerged that allow us to deepen our knowledge of these relationships. How can we leverage these opportunities and tools to better understand how discrete elements of the built environment are affecting us? Is the way that we currently design cities beneficial for the people living in them? How can we use this information to inform future urban development?


Metrics: Wellbeing and Human Senses

  • How can we measure how distinct elements of the built environment affect wellbeing?
  • How can we measure how the built environment affects physical health, whether we have high-blood pressure, healthy lungs, or weight?
  • How can we measure how the built environment affects mental health, such as our levels of satisfaction or anxiety?
  • How can we measure how the built environment affects social capital, such as our relationship to others or stewardship of space?
  • How can we identify relationships between our senses and specific elements of the built environment? For example – the color or massing of a structure, or the width of a street.
  • How will you engage the study participants and/or residents of West Palm Beach?

Winner: Happier by Design

The Happier by Design team employed concepts from environmental psychology to create a tactical intervention on the city’s waterfront promenade.

Intended to alter people’s emotions, physiology and behavior, the team used art, fragrant flora and visual references to local history to enliven a short section of the waterfront promenade. They added movable chairs, tables, and umbrellas for comfort. Then they led volunteers on walks of the site, during which we recorded their emotional and physical states. Happier by Design also studied the behavior of pedestrians not involved in our tours.

The intervention induced five times as many people to stop and linger on the waterfront. It also had a clear effect on walking participants: Not only did participants report liking the waterfront more when the tactical intervention was in place, but the change also improved their mood. Participants reported feeling less stress. They felt a greater sense of belonging. Another striking outcome was that participants felt more trust for strangers, which is a strong correlate of happier and healthier cities.

The result was an intervention that promoted psychological restoration and encouraged more human engagement on the waterfront.

To view Happy City Lab’s full report click here.

Team: A multidisciplinary team comprised of principal Charles Montgomery of Happy City (Vancouver); Project Lead Houssam Elokda of Happy City (Halifax); Director Jennifer Roe of the Center for Design and Health at University of Virginia (Charlottesville); Laura Barnes in Systems and Information Engineering at the University of Virginia; Project Director Sherryl Muriente of Street Plans Collaborative (Miami); Director Anna Rose of Space Syntax (London); and Researcher Stephen Law of Space Syntax (London).

Key Findings

Design and architecture have the opportunity to increase well-being and health for residents and visitors. The strategies proposed by the design and research teams magnify the importance of consideration for the role that complexity, flexibility, weather, and resilience play in design. By incorporating these elements into a city’s landscape, we can create more attractive spaces that are amenable to residents, visitors, and diverse populations. The proposals created for West Palm Beach can act as a guide for waterfront cities everywhere.

Below are key findings from the competition that can help guide the development of cities to support the well-being of residents and visitors.

To read Van Alen’s full findings document, click here.

This new structure, the Alexander A. Kolter is one of many new developments in West Palm Beach. This structure is being developed between Fern Street and Evernia Street on South Olive Avenue.
Dominated by low-lying structures, West Palm Beach has maintained a good balance between public open space and infrastructure. While residents and visitors enjoy this balance, there is opportunity to use these open spaces to unite diverse communities.
West Palm Beach train station is on South Tamarind Avenue and Clematis Street. The Amtrak station connects residents from outlying neighborhoods to the urban core.
At the corner of Corner of Narcissus Street and Banyan Street, residents wait to shop at the West Palm Beach Green Market.
This mural was done by a local artist, Case, for the Canvas Outdoor Museum Show last year. It is one of many new murals in West Palm Beach.
Local musicians take advantage of an open space near the local market. The market draws in a crowd, creating an informal site for cultural performances.
An overhead view displays the city’s diverse uses, new developments, and abundance of trees, which provide respite from the summer heat.
Two women wait at the Amtrak and Greyhound Bus station on Tamarind Avenue between Okeechobee Boulevard and Banyan Street.
The corner of Olive Avenue and North Clematis Street is the heart of city’s downtown. The downtown is active during weeknights and weekends, but is also frequented by the employees of local businesses, who come for lunch during the workweek.