This Spring, ULI Philadelphia implemented its first UrbanPlan program through a pilot with the University of Pennsylvania’s Stuart Weitzman School of Design.
The program is designed to be an engaging simulation exercise in which participants learn about the market and non-market forces that shape real estate development in our communities. UrbanPlan’s mission is to create a sophisticated level of discourse among local stakeholders involved in land use decisions through the education of tomorrow’s voters, neighbors, community leaders, public officials, and land use professionals to ultimately create better communities. The program is run in 30+ District Councils across the country and has impacted over 53,000 high school and university students since the program’s conception in 2003. More ULI members volunteer through UrbanPlan than any other ULI program around the country, allowing members to make a real impact in the classroom.
The mission is achieved through a set curriculum that uses colorful LEGOs and an Excel proforma to represent the different aspects of the development process. Before serving as a classroom volunteer, ULI members must participate in a required day long training session, where they are assigned roles on a development team and engage in a “lightning-round” version of the exercise. Twenty-three ULI Philadelphia volunteers dedicated an entire Friday in February to complete the required training. The training experience was received with overwhelmingly positive feedback and an overall competitive spirit as they took part in the UrbanPlan process themselves.
UrbanPlan Volunteer Training
The pilot program led by Penn Design professor, Vincent Reina, launched Wednesday February 26th and consisted of 18 first- and second-year students split up into 3 development teams. The training began with an unconscious bias discussion in which the students reflected on the bias within their respective roles: Financial Analyst, Site Planner, City Liaison, Neighborhood Liaison and Marketing Director. Their next class featured an overview of asset mapping. This exercise, led by ULI member and UrbanPlan volunteer, Karen Thompson, Director of Planning at DRWC, called for the students to remove themselves from their roles and think about assets in the neighborhood as a community member. Both training sessions gave the students time to work on their mission statements within their teams and begin working with the LEGOs and site plan.
Similar to the rest of the country, the program encountered some unexpected changes with the schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With Penn switching all coursework to online platforms, ULI staff and members worked to switch the program to a virtual setting. Using the Zoom platform and an online site builder, the program was able to continue its delivery. This change could not have been achieved without the commitment of the 18 students who were determined to complete the curriculum and present their final proposals.
The students were then introduced to the volunteers through a virtual facilitation class that allowed for students to receive initial feedback on their proposals and for volunteers to question them through the Socratic Method that they were originally trained on.
Virtual UrbanPlan delivery with ULI members and Penn Design students.
The program ended on April 1st with the mock City Council presentations. The Council consisted of volunteer ‘councilmembers’ Paula Brumbelow, City of Philadelphia Planning Commission, Victoria Brumbaugh, Qlik, Inc., Carolyn Campbell, CCLA Studios, David Mercuris, The Goldenberg Group, and Greg Krykewycz, DRVPC who lead the group as volunteer ‘mayor’.
The three students teams, Penn Advisors LLC, Vitality Development Group and Zelda Green, were all commended on their high-quality proposals and flexibility through all the unforeseen changes. Zelda Green took the winning proposal with their coordinated Zoom virtual backgrounds and thoughtful presentation. The final decision was a tough one as each of the council members discussed the pros and cons of each team, with at least one volunteer favoring each of the three teams for different reasons.
On behalf of ULI Philadelphia, we would like to thank everyone who participated in this inaugural UrbanPlan including: all the ULI volunteers, Penn Design students, Professor Reina, and the UrbanPlan Committee for their months of hard work and dedication to successfully delivering the program. ULI PHL hopes to take all the lessons learned from the pilot and deliver the curriculum at the high school, university and public official levels across Philadelphia.
If you are interested in signing up for a future UrbanPlan Volunteer training, please fill out this application. Questions can be directed to Kelly Cary, Kelly.firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was contributed by Grace Boroughs, ULI Philadelphia intern and undergraduate student at the University of Pennsylvania (Graduation 2020).