In the history of ULI, UrbanPlan occupies a special place. Launched in 2002 in partnership with the Fisher Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics at the University of California–Berkeley, UrbanPlan was the Institute’s first foray into the K–12 classroom. High school students were given a taste of the real-world complexities of real estate as they aimed to balance market and nonmarket forces in the redevelopment of the blighted site in the Elmwood neighborhood in the fictional city of Yorktown.
Now, in another historic first, UrbanPlan has been successfully exported across the Atlantic for students in the United Kingdom. The UrbanPlan case study has been customized to reflect the unique challenges of urban planning and development within a British context. The 15-hour workshop that is currently delivered in U.S. classrooms has been condensed to six hours to accommodate the U.K. state school curriculum, which offers less time and flexibility for electives and supplementary coursework. Students in the U.K. will be encouraged to download a mobile app and watch a series of videos to help prepare them for the course.
Although the time frame and the specifics of the case study are different, the aim of UrbanPlan in the United Kingdom is the same: to create informed citizens and to make young people aware of how cities are built through the push-and-pull of competing priorities and demands. In the U.K. model, introducing students to careers within the real estate or property industry is a goal as well.
The response among U.K. students and their teachers has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic, says Amanda Keane, project director for UrbanPlan in the United Kingdom. In November 2014, 90 A-level students in three London schools participated in a pilot version of UrbanPlan. In surveys taken after the workshop, 88 percent of students reported a better understanding of the property or real estate development process, while 83 percent said they came away with a greater understanding of careers in the property industry. (Watch a video of the 2014 pilot.)
“The questions we’re asking are universal,” says ULI U.K. Chairman Simon Clark, partner at Linklaters LLP and one of those instrumental to bringing UrbanPlan to the United Kingdom. “These children already live and operate in cities, and observe what is going on around them. They’re starting to understand how cities have evolved in the past and how they will continue to evolve in the future in response to a whole set of pressures—physical, social, political, and economic. [UrbanPlan] gives them a chance to join up the dots, to understand that there is, indeed, no right answer to these complex challenges and that compromise is a good word.”
Customizing UrbanPlan to Reflect Different Cultural and Political Contexts
UrbanPlan will officially launch in November in 15 schools across six British cities: London, Birmingham, Liverpool, Edinburgh, and Glasgow. Students enrolled in geography and business studies will participate in the workshops, where ULI members will act as facilitators and town councilors who evaluate each student team’s development proposal. The goal is to reach 1,200 students by 2017.
Leading up to the launch, ULI members, staff, and consulting partner EdComs have been hard at work refining and customizing the curriculum so that it reflects the realities of urban development in the United Kingdom.
“The DNA of U.K. cities is very different than the DNA of U.S. cities,” says Michael Mortensen, associate director of planning and development at Grosvenor, Britain & Ireland, and an UrbanPlan U.K. volunteer. “We put a lot of energy into the case study, making sure it reflected the land economics of cities here.”
Because land is at a premium in U.K. cities, development has to occur on a smaller scale and at a much finer grain with fewer large-scale sites, surface parking lots, and big-box retailers, Mortensen says. Terraced housing and row housing are more common than single-family homes on large lots found in neighborhoods across the United States and Canada. In general, there is greater intensity of land uses in the United Kingdom compared with North America.
Land use terminology, down to place names—“Yorkton” instead of “Yorktown” and “Ellham” instead of “Elmwood”—had to be Anglicized as well. In the British planning system, “zoning” as a term does not exist, so the appropriate language to describe permissible land uses had to be added to the case study, says Jack Lilliott, a graduate planner at the Chelmsford office of Strutt & Parker who worked on revising the scripts for the U.K. case study. “It’s critical that we embed the case study in English terminology.”
“The case studies in the U.S. and U.K. UrbanPlan are more or less reflective of the way development occurs in these different contexts,” says David Green, a longtime UrbanPlan volunteer with ULI Atlanta who relocated to London to head up the urban design practice at Perkins+Will (known as Pringle Brandon Perkins+Will in the United Kingdom.) Green also helped with the planning of UrbanPlan in the U.K. “The good news is that UrbanPlan is transportable.”
Clark says UrbanPlan’s “transportability” is what may enable it to be adapted to other schools in the European Union—an aspiration of ULI Europe. “It’s very important that we speak to them in their own language,” he says. “The closer you can bring it to their reality, the more engaged they’ll be.”
Sourcing the Next Generation of Property Professionals
Like the U.S. public schools’ curriculum, the U.K. state schools’ curriculum contains no separate unit on planning, real estate, or urban development. For many students, understanding how cities are built and familiarizing themselves with careers in the real estate or property industry are new concepts. Once they hear about fields like architecture, planning, urban design, and real estate and the role that professionals in these fields play in creating cities, they are eager to learn more.
During the pilot, volunteers were thrilled to share personal stories of how they entered the profession and what their careers have meant to them. “The students were impressed by the level of passion people have for their work,” Mortensen recalls.
John McLarty, head of planning at Strutt & Parker, is also in charge of his firm’s recruiting and outreach efforts. He sees UrbanPlan as a great career exploration tool. “Our goal is to inspire a new generation of property professionals,” he says. “Many of the property professions—planning, surveying, and real estate development—tend to get overlooked in schools. So this is an exciting opportunity to connect students with industries and careers they may not know much about.”
In addition, students learn that a variety of skills sets—from marketing to legal to design—is required to make any real estate development succeed, Lilliott says.
Strutt & Parker, in particular, has made a sizable commitment to UrbanPlan in the United Kingdom by committing funding as well as manpower. Nearly 80 professionals from the planning and real estate side are committed to volunteer. “I’ve seen a level of engagement with UrbanPlan at all levels of the firm,” Lilliott says.
Other funders include the ULI Foundation and the ULI Charitable Trust; the Investment Property Forum Charitable Trust; Tishman Speyer; the Westminster Foundation on behalf of Grosvenor; Changing the Face of Property, dedicated to diversifying the real estate industry in the United Kingdom; Hammerson; British Land; Land Securities; Almacantar; Tristan Capital; Pringle Brandon Perkins+Will; and other private foundations.
Place making and how the built environment actually creates wealth, opportunity, and social mobility also are key messages of UrbanPlan in the United Kingdom, McLarty says, especially for students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Students find the real-life and practical nature of the case study a welcome break from their day-to-day curriculum, which is focused on basic subjects like math, reading, and grammar. “There is a lot of untapped talent and potential in our inner cities, and UrbanPlan, we hope, can being to unlock some of that,” McLarty says.
In the United Kingdom, the real estate industry is responding more directly to calls that it needs to diversify not only to reflect the changing demographics of cities, but also to create entry points into real estate to previously excluded groups. “This trend has been building for quite a while,” Clark says. “There is a greater consciousness that some people need a leg up, and the property industry wants to do its bit to help out in any way we can.”