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Mason Students Participate in UrbanPlan Land Use Simulation Program

If you took a look inside a classroom in George Mason’s MS in Real Estate Development (MRED) program last fall semester, you might have seen groups of students huddled around whiteboards and having intense discussions while moving around stacks of brightly-colored over-sized Lego blocks.

This wasn’t child’s play – these MRED students were engaged in UrbanPlan, a land use simulation excercise hosted by the Urban Land Institute (ULI), an international nonprofit real estate research and education organization which is headquartered in Washington DC.  The MRED program partnered with ULI’s Washington DC chapter, one of the largest local chapters worldwide with over 2,000 members, to make UrbanPlan part of the MRED curriculum.

UrbanPlan requires students to form development teams to respond to a request for proposal from a fictitious city to redevelop a blighted multi-block urban area.  The groups are presented not only with choices for residential, office and retail construction to achieve a reasonable developer’s profit, but are also challenged with issues of historic preservation, open and green space design, housing affordability and homelessness, employment and property tax base creation, traffic, adjacent land uses, and competing (and at times conflicting) neighborhood groups’ concerns.

Conceived by ULI in conjunction with UC-Berkeley, UrbanPlan has reached over 20,000 students across the country since 2003.  Experienced local real estate and land use professionals volunteer to interact with the students over a three-week period.  They challenge the students to think critically about the issues and they serve on a “City Council” to judge the final proposals.  Around 400 high school, college students and public officials in the Washington DC region take part in the program each year.

UrbanPlan is designed to expose students to issues related to development – how real estate market forces clash and collaborate with non-market forces of regulation, politics and advocacy to create well-received and well-executed projects that optimize land use for society.

“UrbanPlan is a great educational tool for students to think critically about their built environment as well as to learn how to work in collaborative groups to defend and achieve a development goal,” said Eric Maribojoc, director of Mason’s Center for Real Estate Entrepreneurship and a volunteer facilitator with the UrbanPlan program. “It’s a great addition to Mason’s real estate program and our goal of educating skillful and thoughtful real estate professionals.”

Photos from CREE and ULI DC

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