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“Community planning is challenging.” That was the sentiment from the recent UrbanPlan for Community Officials administered by the Urban Land Institute’s Atlanta District Council (ULI Atlanta for short). Organized with the assistance and support of Natallie Kaiser at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the day-long event was held on Saturday, March 23, 2019 at Sheltering Arms at the Barack and Michelle Obama Academy in the Peoplestown neighborhood. The day was led by Quincy Jones, a member of ULI Memphis who has been trained to facilitate this program. Quincy is a project manager with ComCap Partners. ComCap Partners works with clients and partners to develop and implement creative financing strategies for community development, affordable housing and municipal projects. They have a passion for community development and enhancing the quality of life in urban areas.
ULI’s UrbanPlan program is a real estate development simulation exercise whereby participants each play a role on a real estate development team tasked with submitting a proposal to the fictional city of Yorktown for the redevelopment of a section of the city called Elmwood. The program is traditionally administered in high schools, colleges and graduate schools, with students participating as members of the development team. ULI has also adapted the program for Public Officials; ULI Atlanta held an UrbanPlan for Public Officials event in October of 2017.
The UrbanPlan for Community Officials program is designed to utilize the UrbanPlan format specifically for officials engaged in community organization, planning and support. ULI and the Annie E. Casey Foundation invited members of the Peoplestown, Pittsburgh, Adair Park, Mechanicsville neighborhoods to participate in the event. Like several parts of the metro area, these neighborhoods have seen rapid change due to the densification of Atlanta and the growth and development of the BeltLine. As a result, these community officials were interested in learning more about the development process from a different perspective. Each official, as part of the development team, was integral in crafting a development proposal that balanced the needs of various neighborhood groups, the City of Yorktown, the market and investors. As a result, the participants better understood the entire development process, having seen the perspective that each stakeholder brings to the negotiation.
The consistent feedback from the participants was that the program provided a better understanding of the thought and detailed planning that goes into the development process. Moreover, participants better understood how the financial models for these projects work. The financial model showed how the city and community benefit from thoughtful, successful projects, not solely the developer. Any development project inevitably involves tradeoffs as competing interests desire different outcomes. Participants in the UrbanPlan program are now better equipped to understand these tradeoffs and to navigate through future development and redevelopment proposals, better armed to represent their communities throughout these processes. As one participant stated, “you can’t please everyone all of the time, but you can listen to concerns and address those in different, creative ways.”
ULI intends to hold additional UrbanPlan for Community Officials programs in other neighborhoods throughout the metro area in the future. Click here to watch a short video about the program.
This article originally appeared in the April 22, 2019 edition of the Saporta Report.