Local high school students will soon be learning about urban planning, thanks to a grant provided by Ball State University Discovery Group.

Saturday workshops are scheduled this fall semester for Muncie area high school students at the Urban Planning storefront studio at the Muncie Mall.   The workshop, called UrbanPlan, is a scenario-based engaged workshop developed by the Urban Land Institute (ULI) the oldest and largest network of cross-disciplinary real estate and land use experts in the world. The program uses maps, role playing, and Lego bricks to teach basic concepts such as balancing competing needs and desires, zoning regulations, city council procedures, social justice, and civic engagement.

UrbanPlan is set in a fictional town which has seen part of its downtown gutted by fire. Residents, developers, the city council, and other parties all have ideas about what should replace the lost buildings. Workshop participants, in groups of six, craft development proposals which can include parks, apartments, historic preservation projects, parking lots, and single-family housing. It’s a balancing act of art and science: the proposal should be pleasing to the eye and attentive to the desires of the community, but it also must make sense financially.

Department Chair Scott Truex has been trained to lead UrbanPlan workshops  and wove them into his PLAN 100 Introduction to Urban Planning classes in the 2020-2021 academic year. He became increasingly interested in taking the workshop into high schools as a way to increase awareness of urban planning among the younger population.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the field of urban planning is growing much faster than average. Planning topics and community building are in the news daily in Indiana cities and towns from South Bend to Evansville, but despite that most freshmen enter the College of Architecture and Planning with little to no knowledge of the discipline. PLAN 100 is often where they hear the term for the first time.

Truex hopes to move up that timeline with two goals for the high school participants. Taken from his grant application, those are:

  • High school students will develop a visceral understanding of how community markets, the value of stakeholder collaboration, and how competing agendas influence the built environment.
  • High school students will encounter the professions of urban planning and design, real estate development, and economic development, all framed in the context of creating just and inclusive communities.

Ball State students enrolled in PLAN 100 used the UrbanPlan workshops last year. Here, they meet with a planning profession to discuss their proposal.

Mary Banning, BUPD 2016, MURP 2018, and adjunct faculty member, is helping facilitate and oversee a cohort of Ball State undergraduate students who will be trained by ULI to assist with the UrbanPlan high school workshops.

One of those students is sophomore Brenden Resnick who, along with junior Elise Jones, helped with PLAN 100 this past summer, becoming familiar with the ULI UrbanPlan workshops and honing their own coaching skills.

“UrbanPlan provides first-year students an introduction to the incredibly vast field of planning in a fun and approachable manner,” says Resnick. “It takes on complicated topics, putting participants right into a process that mirrors real-world experience, in a way that is understandable even to those who have never heard of planning before. I could not think of a better way to complement the Plan 100 curriculum than with this workshop; it felt like I was playing a role in guiding our future.”

Resnick, Jones, and other Ball State students will serve as coaches and “city councilors” for the high school workshops, putting their education to work before they’ve even finished their studies. As “city councilors” they will listen to final proposals and can opt to choose one as the winner.  Urban Planning alumna Jennifer Milliken, senior director of ULI Indiana, has organized that process for the PLAN 100 classes, often juggling up to 25 volunteers on a series of Zoom calls two days a week. Truex calls her help crucial to the success of the Ball State classes but is glad both he and Milliken will be able to sidestep that scheduling boondoggle with the high school workshops.

“The initiative will provide Ball State urban planning students an opportunity to practice their group facilitated skills through Socratic interaction, asking questions, presenting scenarios, and challenging ideas to stimulate great dialogue and team discussion,” says Truex. “These are all skill sets they will apply as professionals leading community development and community consensus-building activities.”

With two urban planning degrees to her name, alumnus Banning, who stayed in Muncie after graduating, is perfectly situated to roll out the workshops to the high school audience, Truex says.

“I’m excited for high school students to experience urban planning and what working in the “real world” can be like,” Banning says. “UrbanPlan teaches students how to work with others and provides presentation experience and learning tools to work in the public, private, and non-profit sectors. I think the program will appeal to high school students as a fantastic leadership opportunity, leadership in their community, and growth in their personal leadership skills and abilities.”

 Write planning@bsu.edu to learn about registering your high schooler for one of the fall workshops, to be held on the first Saturday of the month in October, November, and December.