• Challenging secondary school students to create better communities

    24 December 2021

    What Is UrbanPlan?

    UrbanPlan is a global educational initiative developed in 2001 by the Urban Land Institute and UC Berkeley’s Fisher Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics as a realistic, interactive classroom-based team challenge, in which students learn about the fundamental forces that affect urban regeneration. First piloted in Asia in 2018, UrbanPlan is entering its fourth academic year in Hong Kong.

    Why is it important for education?

    A real-life simulation replete with a request for proposal and goal-oriented roles in a competitive workshop setting, UrbanPlan is a hands-on workshop intended for 16-18 year olds. Using Lego models, students form property development companies, and compete as teams to test solutions that address critical issues related to creating a thriving and resilient community neighbourhood.

    The program is delivered in two parts: During the preparatory lesson, class teachers provide contextual understanding, correlating land-use principles to themes students are familiar with. During the workshop, ULI instructors lead through the challenge, assisted by industry professionals trained in UrbanPlan, who volunteer their time to take on facilitation and judging duties.

    Students are tasked with realising a team vision, while simultaneously achieving goals specific to their individual roles. Herein lies a core value of UrbanPlan: There is no right or wrong answer, the experience is the learning. Students are encouraged to consider the competing forces and intents that shape outcome goals, while acquiring an appreciation of the processes that shape the neighbourhoods in which we live our lives, skills not typically taught in a classroom.

    “This is the sort of learning every student should be doing. It’s about analysis, it’s about collaboration and it’s about creativity… this is different, it’s not out of a textbook,” says Dr Malcolm Pritchard, Head of ISF Academy in Hong Kong.


    The pandemic has made us all reconsider our lifestyle, values and urban environments, which makes UrbanPlan a particularly timely learning activity. While the physical schemes are the most visible end-product, the value of UrbanPlan lies in its process. Students learn how their individual levels of engagement in negotiating for a desired outcome, affects the liveability of the neighbourhood their team is trying to create.

    As Douglas Wu, Executive Director, Fairland Holdings reflects: “As a workshop volunteer, it is fascinating to see how ordinary Secondary students understand their city and envision an ideal neighbourhood. It’s a refreshing angle from our daily professional views and gives us some insight into how the next generation wants to experience a city.”

    Frequently misunderstood as an ‘urban planning’ exercise, UrbanPlan is an activity in teaming and collaborative dynamics. To create an effective scheme, the final product must have been thought through in enough detail to reflect a desirable social ‘software’ to complement the ‘hardware’ of an imagined built environment. Students are expected to coherently analyse a set of realistic constraints, and under time pressure, develop scenarios towards a final solution fit to be presented to a panel of industry experts.

    UrbanPlan is also a uniquely personal experience. While navigating the trade-offs between their roles’ individual goals and their team’s goals, students learn to make balanced choices between the tensions. This often stretches students as they grow their skills in analysis, contextualization, value prioritization, pitching, negotiating, creativity, and public speaking. “When we look around the world today in the communities that we live in, there’s a lot of challenges that the communities are facing.  UrbanPlan is really important [to me because] it’s a great way to introduce students to the issues that these communities are facing while at the same time teaching them the skills that they will need for the future.” John So, ULI Global Governing Trustee and Managing Director, Co-Head of BGO Strategic Capital Partners, an UrbanPlan sponsor.

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