EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - This summer, a team of five students from the Institute for Political and Legal Education class at East Brunswick High School participated in the national Urban Land Institute, Urban Plan competition. Competing against 50 students from across North America, the East Brunswick High School team placed third. The mission of the Urban Land Institute is to provide leadership in the responsible use of land and in creating and sustaining thriving communities worldwide.

This year, due to the pandemic, the competition was held virtually, and throughout the full-day competition, teams had to redevelop a fictional neighborhood strategy, complete an architectural, financial, and marketing plan, and negotiate with the fictional constituents of their fictional city of Elmwood. This involved hours of preparation, and this year, teams had to include COVID-19 accommodations in their plans. The East Brunswick team aligned to real-world roles and was composed of a City Liaison, Neighborhood Liaison, Financial Analyst, Marketing Director, and Site Planner.

As Marketing Director, my job required me to calculate the absorption rates of various buildings and the target tenants for each building. This meant deciding where buildings would be most profitable and determining how they would survive during the pandemic.

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Other roles like City Liaison and the Site Planner focussed on the aesthetics of the town and fulfilling the wishes of the city council. This meant ensuring plenty of affordable housing, job creation, and maintaining the “curb effect” for an eye-pleasing design.

We were also challenged with appealing to neighborhood groups. Groups of various political influence required we addressed their concerns, which included decisions about a skate park, homeless shelter, and other topics.

Finally, our Financial Analyst was tasked with maximizing the potential revenue and managing costs associated with our plan. The competition required us to meet certain profit and expense benchmarks; specifically with respect to city revenue, developer profit, rate of return, and more.

This competition introduced me to the multi-faceted and often less glamorous aspects of urban planning and city politics. Given the large redevelopment project currently occurring in our own town, it’s extremely important that young people become educated on the complexities of these subjects.