By Becky Loi, University of Waterloo, School of Planning Master’s Candidate
What would you do if you had to redevelop a 5 ½ block site in the city? That was the question facing groups of high school students under ULI Toronto’s inaugural UrbanPlan program.
An exciting program that spans ULI across North America and the UK, UrbanPlan is a practical, engaging exercise in which participants simulate a development project. In Toronto, the focus is on students in nine local high school classrooms participating for the Fall 2017 and Spring 2018 semesters. Ranging from grades 9 to 12, the students roleplayed as development teams in their geography, urban issues, and economics classes, and had to present their final presentation and ideas to a mock City Council comprised of ULI volunteers. The students got to play one of these five roles: Financial Analyst, Marketing Director, City Liaison, Neighbourhood Liaison, and Site Planner.
A joint effort by ULI volunteers and the teachers at the local high schools, the UrbanPlan program has been well received. Just like over 43,000 of their counterparts across the United States who had participated in the UrbanPlan program, Toronto’s pilot group of students was offered a fascinating glimpse into the exciting yet challenging world of land development.
UrbanPlan Toronto by the Numbers
- UrbanPlan has been rolled out in 9 classrooms (AY Jackson Secondary School, Western Tech Commercial School, Forest Hill Collegiate, Harbord Collegiate Institute, Central Toronto Academy, Loretto Abbey Secondary School, Western Tech Commercial School, Forest Hill Collegiate)
- 220 students have learned about urban planning, real estate and development
- 35 volunteers participating in 28 sessions from all areas of the membership
- 500 hours of volunteer time has been calculated through training and classroom time
One of the success stories is the grade 9 enriched geography class at Loretto Abbey Catholic Secondary School, an all-girls high school at Yonge and York Mills. Alexandra Rybak, Director at ULI Toronto, initially approached her alma mater about this program to showcase the exciting roles that are available for young women in real estate, planning and development. It was received enthusiastically by both faculty and students.
Mr. Howard Cappadocia, the geography teacher at Loretto Abbey who led the program, was effusive in his praise. “This is a top-notch program… and in my 20 years of experience, it is one of the best curriculums I have ever seen,” said Mr. Cappadocia. He credits this to the realistic and contextual aspect of the UrbanPlan curriculum that promotes problem solving and critical thinking among his students.
Mr. Cappadocia also pointed out the urban focus of the program was particularly appropriate for his students, as their school is located in Toronto and many of his students were able to use their lived experience to inform their redevelopment plans. He believes that this program makes geography come alive for his students and that it had been so exciting to see their enthusiasm for it.
“Having a simulation like this, where they are actually faced with a real world problem, all these different perspectives, all these different disciplines… It’s amazing,” he said. That is a true reflection of the intended goals of UrbanPlan. Through this program, the Loretto Abbey students discovered the interplay of market forces and non-market forces, while balancing factors like supply and demand and availability of capital with regulations and local politics to create the ideal built environment. They also gained an understanding of the diverse stakeholders in the development process and the challenge of reconciling often-competing agendas to create financeable, buildable projects that are well-designed and also market-responsive.
Their experience was enhanced by visits from former alums and ULI members Anne Morash, Senior Vice President, Multi-Residential – GWL Realty Advisors and Emma West, Partner, Bousfields, who visited as guest speakers during the program and spoke to the young women about their experience and how they were inspired to join the planning and development industry.
The success with the grade 9 class has the school abuzz about the UrbanPlan program. The students who are in the program are “galloping along” and really enjoying themselves. Even students who are not in the program have been inquiring about participating in UrbanPlan and Mr. Cappadocia is already planning more classes for next year.
If you would like to play a part in helping to develop the leaders of tomorrow that will help shape the future of our city, please volunteer for UrbanPlan 2018/2019.