“In real world scenarios, there is often no one right answer.” Teacher Stacy Arevalo says that this is one of the most important lessons students take away from UrbanPlan, an extensive team project that makes up the final unit of Eastside’s Senior Research Institute.
Run by the Urban Land Institute, UrbanPlan is a program that gives high schoolers the chance to learn about neighborhood revitalization by working as development teams tasked with planning improvements to a fictional community called “Elmwood.” Within each team, students are assigned roles including city liaison, neighborhood liaison, site planner, financial analyst, and marketing director. Working in these roles, students gain an understanding of market forces like supply and demand and risk vs. reward, and they must also take into account requests from advocacy groups, local regulations, and other important factors. At the end of the project, the teams present their plans to a simulated city council, comprised of professionals who work in urban planning and related fields, which chooses a winning team from each class.
“Your success is based on how determined and passionate you are,” says Jonathan Solis, a winning team member from Jaya Subramanian’s class. “You kind of have to go above and beyond in this project.”
One of the challenges each team faced was that Elmwood needed a homeless shelter, but a local group opposed adding one in their area out of concern that it would lead to an increase in crime. To prepare a response, Jonathan did research on homelessness, and cited evidence that people experiencing homelessness are actually more likely to be the victims of crimes than the perpetrators. He also shared information on the benefits of adding a homeless shelter to a community.
As financial analyst, Jonathan focused on maximizing community benefit (for example adding more parks and affordable housing), while also ensuring financial stability and avoiding debt.
“It was a really good exercise in critical thinking,” he says. “It just reinforces one of the pillars of Eastside.”
Although he knew he had done a lot of work to prepare for the city council presentation, Jonathan still felt “that kind of nervousness where your nerves don’t hit you until the day of.”
Stacy explains that the presentation experience helps students gain advocacy skills, and they have to practice quick thinking while responding to follow-up questions and challenges from the council members. It can be an intimidating experience, but a lot of students also find it fun.“I was really passionate about it,” says Jonathan. “So I really enjoyed myself."