The Aga Khan, Leader of a Global Network of Cultural, Educational and Development Philanthropies, Selected as the 2011 Recipient of the ULI J.C. Nichols Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development

Oct 27, 2011, 20:04 ET from Urban Land Institute

LOS ANGELES, Oct. 27, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- An unparalleled leader in development, cultural preservation and philanthropy, largely benefiting poor and marginalized communities in Asia and Africa, is being honored with the 2011 Urban Land Institute (ULI) J.C. Nichols Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development. His Highness the Aga Khan, Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims and leader of the nondenominational Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), was named the 2011 Nichols Laureate today at ULI's Annual Fall Meeting and Urban Land Expo in Los Angeles.


The ULI J.C. Nichols Prize recognizes an individual, or a person representing an institution, whose career demonstrates a commitment to the highest standards of responsible development. The $100,000 prize honors the legacy of legendary Kansas City, Missouri, developer Jesse Clyde Nichols (1880-1950), a founding ULI member who is widely regarded as one of America's most influential entrepreneurs in land use during the first half of the 20th century.

"The ULI J.C .Nichols Prize recognizes distinguished contributions to community building.  Such contributions can, and do, come from many sources and cultures," said James DeFrancia, chair of the 2011 Nichols Prize jury and principal of Lowe Enterprises in Aspen, Colo.

"Through the Aga Khan Development Network, progress and improvements to communities have been undertaken in over 30 countries," DeFrancia said. "The Aga Khan has further been an advocate of standards of excellence through his Award for Architecture. His Planning and Building Services agency has also improved design, construction, sanitation and environmental sustainability. The efforts of the Aga Khan have strengthened both communities and society at large."

Luis Monreal, general manager of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, accepted the prize on behalf of the Aga Khan. "Fully a third of World Heritage sites are in the Muslim world, but they are inhabited by some of the poorest people," Monreal said. "Traditional approaches to urban regeneration – which are often designed to create museums of these neighborhoods – fail to address social and economic dimensions.  They become unproductive burdens on poor municipalities. The central objective of our work, therefore, is to leverage culture in pursuit of poverty alleviation.  We do this by bringing a critical mass of programs to bear – the creation of parks and gardens, heritage conservation, water and sanitation, microfinance, open space and infrastructure improvements, and education and health initiatives.  We have found that poor people can benefit from these efforts and can become custodians of their heritage."

The selection of the Aga Khan as the 2011 ULI JC Nichols Prize recipient is particularly timely this year, as ULI celebrates its 75th anniversary. "We are recognizing the anniversary as much by looking ahead as by celebrating our past, and this involves expanding ULI's reach to new audiences around the globe," said ULI Chief Executive Officer Patrick Phillips. "The knowledge we gain from the outstanding example set by the Aga Khan's work will greatly help ULI broaden its approach to community building," he said.

One project undertaken by the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, the restoration of a 900-year-old Altit Fort in Hunza, Pakistan, illustrates the scope of the Aga Khan's work.  Before restoring the fort, which is a cultural monument and tourist attraction, the project focused first on improving living conditions in the local village. According to the AKDN, residents had been abandoning traditional houses in the village and building new houses on valuable arable land. Improvements including a water filtration system helped draw people back to the traditional settlement. Earlier this year the project received an Award of Distinction at the 2011 UNESCO Asian-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation.  

That is but one example of the great range of endeavors undertaken by the Aga Khan and the AKDN. He and his network have created universities and medical centers in areas of the world that lacked such vital institutions. Economic development, microfinance, education, cultural preservation, promotion of tourism, and humanitarian assistance all are part of the organization's important work.

The ULI J.C. Nichols Prize jury also made note of the prestigious Aga Khan Award for Architecture. The Award is given every three years to projects that set new standards of excellence in architecture, planning practices, historic preservation and landscape architecture.  The selection process emphasizes architecture that not only provides for people's physical, social and economic needs, but which also stimulates and responds to their cultural expectations.

His Highness the Aga Khan is the 49th Imam, or spiritual leader, of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims who live mainly in Central and South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, but also in Europe, North America and Australia.  Born in 1936 in Geneva, Switzerland, he spent his early childhood in Nairobi, Kenya, and graduated from Harvard University in 1959. For more information about the Aga Khan and his work, visit

About the ULI J.C. Nichols Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development
The ULI J.C. Nichols Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development ( is funded by an endowment from the family of J.C. Nichols to the ULI Foundation. A management committee including ULI representatives and members of the Nichols family directs the prize program. Nichols (1880-1950) pioneered the development of sustainable, mass market residential neighborhoods built for permanence, and automobile-oriented shopping centers. The Country Club district, a model residential community; Country Club Plaza, a 77-year-old shopping center and multi-use development; and numerous well-preserved suburban communities south of downtown Kansas City attest to his enduring legacy. Vincent Scully, 2003 laureate of the Nichols Prize, said of J.C. Nichols, "There is no one involved with the American city who does not owe J.C. Nichols a debt for his vision and method in the planning and development of residential communities. His example has helped this generation to take on that basic program intelligently once again."  

The 2011 ULI J.C. Nichols Prize Jury
Jury Chairman: James M. DeFrancia, principal, Lowe Enterprises, Inc., Aspen, Colo. Additional jury members:   Ronald Altoon, FAIA, partner, Altoon + Porter Architects, Los Angeles; F. Barton Harvey III, former chairman, Enterprise, Baltimore; Neal Peirce, chairman, The Citistates Group, Washington, D.C.;  Deborah Ratner Salzberg, president, Forest City Washington, Washington, D.C.

About the Urban Land Institute
The Urban Land Institute ( is a global nonprofit education and research institute supported by its members. Its mission is to provide leadership in the responsible use of land and in sustaining and creating thriving communities worldwide. Established in 1936, the Institute has nearly 30,000 members representing all aspects of land use and development disciplines.

SOURCE Urban Land Institute