ULI Atlanta Blog

Georgia Tech Real Estate Development By Design

by Rick Porter

History tells us that shaping land for human habitat is not a new idea. From high rise cliff dwellers to high rise office dwellers, real estate development has been a centerpiece of the human experience. Georgia Tech is exploring this paradigm through its new Masters of Real Estate Development program.

Over the past half century, the development of our land has been accomplished by a rapidly expanding group of entrepreneurs that have loosely created the profession of real estate developer. These practitioners have traditionally acquired and honed their skills through generational transfer or on-the-job training after arriving with various academic and business backgrounds. Shaping the land, however, is very different today than a century ago when the foundations of the industry were laid. The concept of fee simple land ownership became widespread in the United States during the 19th century.  Private and public policies associated with fee simple ownership evolved throughout the 20th century, as did financing mechanisms that afforded ownership to the majority of the population.

After World War II, the United States experienced a shift from an agrarian economy to a service economy.  No longer did a family need 40 acres and a mule but could do just as well with 40 feet and a cubicle. This economical shift began a mass migration to metropolitan areas that was aided by the proliferation of the automobile and the defense highway system. Diverse demand created by the concentration of the population into metropolitan areas combined with growing access to real estate financing attracted ever larger numbers to the profession, but also exposed the inadequacies of on-the-job training and the current regulatory infrastructure.

Organizations such as the Urban Land Institute have diligently pursued industry education, but there have been limited post-secondary programs focusing on real estate development. Taking the lead from ULI and others, the Georgia Tech College of Design recognized an opportunity to further the educational experience by offering a Master of Real Estate Development degree with an interdisciplinary curriculum that prepares graduates to shape the physical land using current financial techniques to meet diverse market demands while delivering progressive public policy goals appropriate for today’s complex environment.

Just what is this endeavor we call real estate development?  Real estate development is a unique multidisciplinary process of balancing the characteristics of the land and space with the intricate requirements of public policy while meeting market demands with a business model founded in debt.  Successfully satisfying ever changing market demands requires the vision of a designer, the technical expertise of an engineer, and the analysis of a financier. The next generation of land use delivery will benefit from the migration of real estate development to academia with a rigorous curriculum of technical, policy and business topics taught by a collaboration of academic and industry professionals.

Real estate development by design at Georgia Tech covers an iterative land use delivery process that synthesizes the physical characteristics of the land with a comprehensive human-scale design to deliver affiliated planning and public policy goals within a sustainable built environment that is financially viable while satisfying the demands of the market with ethics and professionalism. The program will leverage existing courses and faculty from the three Schools in the College of Design; the School of Architecture, the School of Building Construction and the School of City and Regional Planning. Georgia Tech is rather unique within the University System of Georgia to be able to leverage acclaimed existing programs to provide a technical, design based real estate development degree.

The Metropolitan Atlanta area is one of the most dynamic urban/suburban geographic areas in the United States. Population growth driven by a diverse economy and attractive lifestyle will be served by real estate professionals providing spaces and places to live, work, play and stay. To accommodate the growth while sustaining the economy and lifestyle will require the integration of the skills and the knowledge that Georgia Tech can offer with this multidisciplinary degree.

Real estate development will continue to play a vital role in the human experience, just as academia will always have its place as a leader in the advancement of society. It is time for real estate development to find its place in an appropriate academic collaboration across the disciplines that are fundamental to the successful, sustainable utilization of land for human habitat. A multidisciplinary education that looks beyond the byzantine regulatory infrastructure and finance driven business model to a land sensitive model will serve the diverse demands of a population concentrated in metropolitan areas that drive commerce. A post-secondary program that combines the experiences of the first two generations of the modern land use industry with the talent of academia is the critical link to the creation of the profession of real estate development. Professionals will then go forth into every aspect of the land use delivery system and move the industry beyond compliance to innovation, beyond conflict to collaboration, beyond confusion to understanding, and beyond frustration to fruition.  The Georgia Tech College of Design Master of Real Estate Development degree is creating the next generation of professional real estate developers by design.

Rick Porter is a ULI Member and President of Richport Properties and Director of the Master of Real Estate Development program in the College of Design at Georgia Tech

This article originally appeared in the May 29th edition of the Saporta Report.

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