UrbanPlan: Reflections on 2015, Glimpses in to 2016

UrbanPlan is the ULI’s exciting educational initiative that has been running successfully in high schools in the US for over ten years. Originally funded by the George Lucas Educational Foundation and other leading US industry bodies, it brings to life the urban environment for young people through a series of interactive real life workshops.

The ULI Europe team has been working hard over the last year to adapt the programme for the UK – and the story so far has been a very successful one. Not only has a stellar group of industry organisations provided the backing, but already, 18 state secondary schools have delivered it (from Edinburgh and Glasgow down to London, via the North West and Birmingham), over 340 students have participated and 150 professional volunteers have given up their time to ‘give something back’.

UrbanPlan is a case study based challenge, in which students form small teams to act as property companies bidding to redevelop an imaginary city centre site.  The case study is based around a request for proposals issued by a fictional local authority – it is looking both for a strong financial bid for the land, and for a regeneration scheme that meets specified physical and social requirements.

ULI has built a set of materials designed to make UrbanPlan fit as easily as possible into the curriculum – usually, but not always, working with A level students studying geography or business studies.  They get briefing packs and videos, and on the day have 3D printed models to help them visualise what their scheme looks like, together with an App which shows them the financial impact of their ideas, along with guidance whether they have met key criteria such as proportions of affordable housing on site.

The volunteers are an important part of the exercise too and they move between teams, helping students work things through. They then become the local authority and listen to them pitch their ideas in oral presentations, choosing a winner and giving feedback.

The students learn lots from the day – at base, they should be better citizens, more informed about how their own communities may be developing.  But there are many other benefits – it brings their academic courses to life, and they learn transferable business skills. It even gets some of them thinking about the property world as a career. Very topically, ULI is focussing on addressing an industry challenge to reach students from a diverse social and economic demographic who might not have thought about a real estate career. The focus therefore has been on working with state schools where students have limited opportunities to participate in these enriching career development activities.

Teachers, students and volunteers alike have been overwhelmingly positive about the experience:

“Thank you very much for your help and support in organising UrbanPlan – the students and the department were very complimentary of the project, your ambassadors and the resources sent through.  We have even had some students change career plans as a result of Urban Plans input!”Teacher

“I just wanted to thank you again for the excellent day you and your Urban Planning team provided our students yesterday. The students often lack confidence and can be nervous or reluctant to face new challenges and yet they were active and engaged throughout your session. From a mentoring perspective, it was brilliant to see, even in such a short period of time, the impact it has made on all students’ aspirations- many of them now want to work in the Property Development industry! They were incredibly positive about the day and it was a pleasure to be involved.’’ Teacher

‘’So many of last year’s students have mentioned the workshop in their applications to university so it obviously had a real impact.’’ Teacher

“Really enjoyed the day and helped me to understand what would be involved with the job. Today has made me seriously consider a career in property or town planning’’ Student

“The experts were very friendly and helpful which made my experience more enjoyable’’ Student

“The workshop exceeded all my expectations and more. Thank you so much, we’d love to have you back” Teacher

“I hope all schools get the opportunity to run this – it is fantastic and I’m super proud of how all our students stepped up and responded to the task” Teacher

“I can confirm that it’s an incredibly satisfying thing to do – the students have grown up in the inner cities, so they’re only too  aware of the social, physical and financial pressures we are asking them to resolve – even if they are not property market experts they really get it.’’ Volunteer


95% students would rate their overall experience of UP positively

97% students found it useful to understand role of property industry & regeneration process

89% found it helpful to understand possible careers

85% of students agreed it helped them to develop their business skills

100% participating teachers classified UP as excellent and as useful in helping students understand the role of the property industry, the urban regeneration process, and possible careers in the industry

100% of participating teachers would be happy to run this event in their school again

The team is already planning ahead for 2016 and will be in ten more schools in the Spring. Thereafter from the start of the academic year 2016, the aim is to deliver in 40 schools and reach 1,200 pupils a year with an even broader geographic spread across the UK. But that is all dependent on securing the funding – so if you would like to get involved please do contact me (Amanda Keane, Project Director amanda.keane@uli.org).

Thanks to the wonderful funders and supporters for helping to make this happen so far: Almacantar; Black Heart Foundation; British Land; Changing the Face of Property; Hammerson; Investment Property Forum Educational Trust; Land Securities; Perkins and Will; RTPI; Strutt and Parker; The Westminster Foundation on behalf of Grosvenor; Tishman Speyer; Tristan Foundation; ULI Charitable Trust; and ULI Foundation.

Amanda Keane

Project Director, ULI Charitable Trust