For the first time, Urban Land Institute (ULI) recently launched the UrbanPlan program in New Jersey for high school students.
As a committee co-chairman within the organization’s Northern New Jersey District, Bohler’s Dan Duggan seized the opportunity to help implement the five-week real estate development program at a local high school.
UrbanPlan is a curriculum originally designed for universities and civic leaders. Participants create a development plan for a simulated project in response to a “request for proposals”, with the help of
industry professionals. Dan served as a “Facilitator” and a “District Council” volunteer, where he played the role of a councilman at a city council hearing, listening to the students’ presentations and challenging their proposals.
We sat down with Dan to learn more about his role in the program and how it’s developing students into future industry professionals.
I’m an active member and co-chair to the membership and sponsorship committee on the Northern New Jersey District Council of Urban Land Institute. On one of our council calls I learned of the inaugural UrbanPlan that was going to take place at East Brunswick High School. Since I began my career working at the East Brunswick Planning and Engineering Department, I was happy to get involved. My understanding of the local area and the entire land development process made me a good fit for the mock council.
In the UrbanPlan program, the students created plans to redevelop a hypothetical blighted neighborhood. My role as a facilitator was to ask the students questions to help them improve their plans and be able to defend their positions. After two separate sessions with the seven student teams, they presented their solutions to purchase and develop the Elmwood District Redevelopment Project Area for the Yorktown Redevelopment Agency to the mock City Council. I served on the council alongside the Township Mayor Brad Cohen, co-chair Michael Lachs, Jim Wendall of the East Brunswick Redevelopment Agency, NJIT Professor Colette Santasieri, and Mara Winokur with ULI.
UrbanPlan was intentionally created to mitigate the gap between academic knowledge of the field and practical experiences in the development process. It is unique in that it offers students hands-on experience in the specific realities of real estate and the land development industry.
There are many life lessons that are layered into this program from outside the expected land planning curriculum. The students learn skills in leadership, communication, conflict resolution, collaboration, public speaking, and fiscal responsibility. They also gain civic understanding and learn how they can help grow their community.
So many communities are undergoing or planning for redevelopment. This program allows students to get an appreciation for all the moving parts of development and designing community spaces that will sustainably address their needs. This program is not solely for those who are thinking about going into planning or design. It is for future lawyers, accountants, political scientists, activists, and general citizens.
The more aware we can make New Jersey High School students about what makes good community sense, the better our state’s future will be. I am proud to have had the opportunity to mentor these exceptional students through this program and look forward to the UrbanPlan initiative expanding to more schools throughout New Jersey in the future.
Hear more about the program and what the students learned in this segment from EBTV, the local East Brunswick television station.