Raising up urban planners for the future

Raising up urban planners for the future
Winning Team: Jenna Piatak, Keondre Patterson, Jessie McCaffrey, Will Singletary, (Olivia Wellstead, not present).

Even as Jacksonville’s blighted Brooklyn neighborhood is beginning to emerge as the newest reclamation in urban landfill and even as the JEA’s brownfield on the Southbank is piquing interest among local developers, students at The Episcopal School of Jacksonville are learning a little bit of what it takes to create a “built environment” – and perhaps become future urban planners and developers.

Last month, 55 students took part in the fifth annual UrbanPlan program – a classroom simulation exercise to expose high school students to the fields of Urban Planning and redevelopment.

Back: Will Singletary, David Wells, Evan Ray Front: Gracie Hamilton, Mead Rogers, Anna Blake, Amanda Strenta

Back: Will Singletary, David Wells, Evan Ray
Front: Gracie Hamilton, Mead Rogers, Anna Blake, Amanda Strenta

UrbanPlan was created for high school and college students by the Urban Land Institute and is supported by trained volunteers. Students work in development teams to analyze and respond to a hypothetical RFP “Request for Proposal” for the redevelopment of a specific urban area.

Bert Brown, of San Jose, said “It’s a phenomenal opportunity. The learning that takes place and the way the students are able to understand what goes into creating the built environment is very rewarding.” Brown is a member of Northeast Florida ULI, serving as a vice chair for the UrbanPlan project.

Brown noted that this was the fifth year that UrbanPlan was held at Episcopal. “It helps teach the concepts of risk and reward, supply and demand, and [the students] understand and learn how to be better stakeholders in what goes into creating the built environment,” he said.

Sydney Fletcher, Kyle McKnight, Kaleigh Hyers

Sydney Fletcher, Kyle McKnight, Kaleigh Hyers

Douglass Myers, a managing shareholder with Collaborative Law Group, participated as a classroom volunteer to help the students learn how to defend their approach to site redevelopment.

“I was proud to be a part of the learning process, not just from UrbanPlan’s perspective, but also from Episcopal’s in using the curriculum to teach various components of economics and civics class that the exercise was part of,” said Myers, an Avondale resident. “Whether any of the students become real estate professionals is anyone’s guess, but it seems clear that after participating in UrbanPlan all of the students have a better understanding of the planning and community redevelopment issues that ULI was established to facilitate and improve.”

Over the course of the exercise, five volunteers from the different aspects of the building and land use community – including engineers, attorneys, bankers, realtors and others – interact with the students as facilitators in the classroom, according to Brenda Bush Franklin, UrbanPlan Director.  “They challenge the students to think more critically about the UrbanPlan issues and the specific responsibilities of the students’ assigned roles as finance directors, marketing directors, city liaisons, neighborhood liaisons, and site planners,” she explained.

The students, primarily seniors, are from two economics classes taught by Perry Walthour, an Ortega Forest resident. He has led the UrbanPlan project at Episcopal for the past two years.

“I believe that UrbanPlan makes our students aware of the various development projects that are going on now in Jacksonville, and they are able to understand all of the components involved in creating mixed use development,” Walthour noted. “They come out of their projects with an understanding of the intricate planning that goes into projects like Brooklyn.”

Following the facilitation sessions, the development teams use Legos and a customized financial model to present their redevelopment vision to a fictitious city council made up of UrbanPlan volunteers.

Both the classroom experience and the presentation provide invaluable lessons for the students. “It’s a great way to see how the construction process actually works and to see what goes into building a new urban environment,” said Sydney Fletcher of San Marco.

Amanda Strenta, of Riverside, said “It helps our generation have a firm understanding of what actually goes into revamping a city and teaches us a good foundation.”

Ortega resident Will Singletary drew some parallels with the Brooklyn development.

“It gives us a chance to become more aware of what’s going on in the city; we have a perfect example today at 220 Riverside,” said Singletary. “This is a great opportunity for us to experience those kinds of developments.”

Kaleigh Hyers, also of San Marco, noted that UrbanPlan “gives a real-world example of how to build a city and how everything works within a city.”

Even though there was only one winning team Brown said that all the students will get an opportunity to tour Brooklyn Riverside as part of the program.

“I have been impressed by the preparation of our students and their ability to defend and sell their planning decisions to the council in an articulate and knowledgeable manner,” Walthour concluded.

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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