UrbanPlan Why & What
UrbanPlan: Educating Future Voters & Community Leaders
UrbanPlan is an academically challenging program that the Urban Land Institute created to teach high school students about the challenges and complexities surrounding land use development through hands-on learning, real-life economics lessons, and interaction with local real estate professionals. The goal is to help develop a more educated citizenry, and facilitate a more sophisticated level of discourse and debate, so that the students – as future business people, policy makers, citizens, and voters – can work together to make the best decisions for creating and sustaining the best possible communities. In the Boston district council the program has proven so successful that not only has it been implemented at four local high schools, it has also been adapted for use in the undergraduate and graduate schools of Boston University.
The UrbanPlan program centers on the hypothetical “Elmwood” neighborhood, in the city of Yorktown. In a situation familiar throughout New England, the neighborhood, once a thriving town center, has deteriorated. The city has responded by issuing an RFP, seeking a private development team to propose and build a project that will revitalize the neighborhood – and that is where the students come in.
Working in small groups, the students form teams which compete to create the best redevelopment plan for the neighborhood; over the course of several weeks they are aided by ULI volunteers, who come into the classroom to help facilitate the creation of the plan. Teams are made up of five different roles (Director of Marketing, Site Planner, City Liaison, Neighborhood Liaison, and Financial Analyst), all of whom must work together to create the site plans, physically created using Legos, that will represent each team’s final proposal.
The program culminates with the student teams presenting their plans to the “City Council” made up of ULI volunteers, who evaluate the projects for the most responsive and compelling answer to Elmwood’s problems, as well looking for the most fiscally sound proposal. At the end of the process, beyond the economics lessons and experiences working collaboratively, the students have encountered the challenges faced every day by public officials and private developers working to balance the needs, wants, and goals of public and private interests in a market economy.