UrbanPlan project exposes students to work in local government



AP Government students used legos to build scale models of a city block as part of the UrbanPlan project, which they recently completed.

Jordan Watts, News Writing Editor

The government of the United States was, and still is, truly revolutionary, and it has served as a model for many other countries around the world since its creation. The Advanced Placement United States Government and Politics class focuses on many of the broad aspects of U.S. government, but what exactly happens at the local level?

AP Government students participated in the Urban Land Institute’s annual UrbanPlan project. This recently completed month-long project allows students to expand their knowledge of the intricacies of local government and its jobs and positions.

Social studies teacher Jennifer Longmire said that the Urban Land Institute goes from school to school giving out materials needed for the competition, in which students make a simulation city block for redevelopment.

“Students get placed into teams of five or six depending on the number of people, and they each have a role, so financial to city liaison, neighborhood liaison,” Longmire said. “They’re supposed to create this new city block and present it to actual members of the Brookline-Boston community.”

Senior Mitchell Schroeder, one of the students who took part in the project, explained the steps that need to be taken before groups build their plans for the city block out of legos and present before the city council members to be judged.

“Starting from scratch, you build a small neighborhood with a bunch of requirements that are given to you,” Schroder said. “These requirements come from a neighborhood interest group or the city’s goals, and you have to mix all of those together in order to form your vision statement and your view for the town.”

According to Longmire, these interest groups play a significant role in local government and are characterized by an association or group of individuals who share some common concerns attempting to pressure and influence public policy in their favor. Interest groups are one of the ways this project connects to teaching students more about the complexities of local government.

“It’s much more of a local government, where you’re working with the city.” Longmire said. “The city is the one that’s going to fund this project, so you have to meet all the interest groups, which is very government related.”

Senior Helen Bechler, another student who took part in the project, said that the project and the struggle of taking into account all of the different interest groups is quite prevalent in real life local politics.

“There are all these people wanting different things, but we couldn’t give them everything, so you’d have to make compromises and sacrifices and tradeoffs, which is a big part of politics,” Bechler said.

While they all worked together to make important decisions for the project, such as what to do to please certain interest groups, the students taking part in the project each focused in on their own assigned role.

According to Bechler, who was the marketing director for her group, these roles focus on specific aspects of city planning and give students a specialized knowledge of their role and its connection to local government.

“The marketing director was in charge of making sure the buildings we put in the city and our design would be attractive to people that would want to rent or live in the buildings,” Bechler said. “It was very important to make sure to put in the right apartments that people would actually want.”

There were several groups in each AP Government class, but the city council members could only pick one winner in each class. Schroeder, one of members of the winning group in his class, said appealing to the council members made his group’s project stand out while being judged.

“One of the things that made our group successful in the end was that the three council members value community service, and we had a lot of community service positions and opportunities,” Schroeder explained.

According to Longmire, regardless of who won, there was a serious benefit for the students involved, which went beyond the usual classroom-style learning.

The project provided students with a new and unique way to apply their knowledge to a more realistic scenario. The experiences gained by the students from their part in the project can be applied to actual jobs.

“It’s a nice connection between the outside world and education and actually doing something that many students probably have never thought about as potential careers,” Longmire said.