What is UrbanPlan
UrbanPlan is a realistic, engaging, and academically challenging classroom-based, web-supported program in which high school students learn the roles, issues, trade-offs, and economics involved in urban development. It provides our future voters, neighbors, community leaders, public officials, and land use professionals with a hands-on experience in developing realistic land use solutions to vexing urban growth challenges.
The United States will add 60 million people in the next 20 years. As our population grows, Americans across the country are called on to make increasingly difficult land use decisions. Where and how will we, our children, and future generations live, work, shop, play and travel from place to place? How we chose to answer questions like this will determine how we accommodate growth without squandering valuable natural resources, sacrificing the livability of our neighborhoods or violating our sense of community. Yet nothing in our education arms us with the language and skills to become effective problem-solving participants in this decision-making process that is so critical to our quality of life and the vitality of our democracy.
If we are to effectively address the challenge of our growing population, if we are to improve our communities as they grow, we must elevate the level of discourse and improve the decision-making capacity of all citizens. UrbanPlan, ULI’s land use planning and real estate development program, strives to change the land use decision making process by providing high school juniors and seniors with the understanding, insights and language to become engaged and informed problem-solvers.
How Does UrbanPlan Work in the Classroom?
Student development teams respond to a “Request for Proposal” for the redevelopment of a blighted neighborhood in a hypothetical community. Each team member assumes one of five roles: finance director, marketing director, city liaison, neighborhood liaison, or site planner. Through these roles, students develop a visceral understanding of the various stakeholders in the development process and the challenge of reconciling the stakeholders’, often competing, agendas to create a well-designed, sustainable project.
Teams address challenging financial, social, political, and design issues; develop a pro-forma and three-dimensional model of their plan; and present their proposal to a “City Council” of ULI members that awards the development contract to the winning team.
Over the course of the three-week project and prior to the presentations, local land use professionals, who have attended UrbanPlan volunteer training, interact several times with the student teams.
As “facilitators”, they challenge the students to think more critically about the UrbanPlan issues and the specific responsibilities of their “job” (Finance, Marketing, Site Planner, City Liaison, Neighborhood Liaison).
As “presenters” they relate their own local projects to the issues and decisions the students are struggling with in UrbanPlan.
Who Created UrbanPlan?
UrbanPlan is based on a program originally created by the Urban Land Institute (ULI), and implemented by ULI District Councils in Los Angles, Orange County, and San Francisco, California and Orlando, Florida.
The current version was developed at The Fisher Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics at the University of California, Berkeley in collaboration with ULI, and a team of high school economics and government teachers. This collaboration insured the reality of the land use problem plus the academic credibility and standards-based content demanded by educators.
The UrbanPlan curriculum aligns with all state and national content standards for high school economics and provides a much-needed local government component to the government curriculum. It employs the best practices of problem and project-based learning (PBL).
Where and How Has UrbanPlan Been Tested?
UrbanPlan was rigorously field tested for two years with over 700 high school juniors and seniors by teachers in core curriculum economics and government courses in five traditional California public high schools-both urban and suburban. Refinements based on feedback from the students, teachers, and land use professionals involved produced a program that is highly engaging and rewarding for all participants.
Students who complete UrbanPlan understand three fundamental principles:
The built environment does not happen by accident or by mandate.
Good development must accommodate market realities as well as public needs and desires.
Our actions as citizens and consumers influence what is built, when it’s built, and where it’s built.
Students often express this understanding with a degree of sophistication that stuns the professionals:
“The increased density of our plan gives us the fiscal leeway to provide more affordable housing and public amenities for the residents of the Elmwood neighborhood.” —Adam Capesi, 17, Berkeley High School
What do participants in the program have to say?
“If every citizen in the City of San Rafael, did the UrbanPlan program that our high school students just completed, I would be one happy Redevelopment Director.” —Nancy Mackle, Redevelopment Director, San Rafael, California
“UrbanPlan is extraordinary. It responds to our need for academically challenging programs, with standards-based content, that demand critical thinking about real problems… in which students must come to well researched positions on the issues, engage in civil and informed discourse about these issues, and where their positions have real-world consequences.”—Doug Powers, Economics Teacher, Berkeley High School, Berkeley, California
“These students are better prepared to dispassionately evaluate the challenges, trade-offs, costs and benefits of development in their communities than any adult who hasn’t actually been member a of a development team.” —Doug Abbey, Chairman, AMB Capital Partners
“UrbanPlan distills and transmits the challenges of the development process to young adults and adults alike more effectively, more comprehensively, in less time, and with more lasting impact than any other program suitable for a general audience”—Steve Chamberlin, President, Chamberlin Associates
Measures of Success
How do we know that UrbanPlan works?
U.C. Berkeley, U.T. Austin, and DePaul University use UrbanPlan in their own architecture, finance, and real estate courses.