Real estate program recasts the American Dream
All the proceeds from the University of Michigan and Urban Land Institute Real Estate Forum, held in Ann Arbor Nov. 11-12, go to the Real Estate Development program offered by the University of Michigan through the A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning.
In general, much of the focus of the forum’s 23 years has been on designing and building walkable downtowns in cities across the state. For the past 10 or so years, the revenue the forum has generated has gone toward starting and supporting the Real Estate Development program, which shares much of the forum’s focus.
“The University of Michigan program certainly recognizes the demand for drivable suburban development — the predominate approach to development over the past half century. However, the market pendulum has begun to swing back toward the other alternative: ‘walkable urbanism,’” said Christopher Leinberger, director of the program’s graduate certificate.
“The focus of the U-M program is creating places that have many uses within walking distance of one another — the definition of walkable urbanism. The Michigan real estate program teaches students about building sustainable places that minimize the ecological footprint of the built environment,” he added.
Leinberger noted the built environment, its real estate and infrastructure, is the largest asset class in the nation’s economy, making up 35 percent of the country’s wealth. But the built environment is also responsible for more than 70 percent of the nation’s energy usage and carbon dioxide emissions, and that means it is the single biggest contributor to climate change.
“The real estate industry, including developers, bankers, investors and consultants, has all been trained in drivable suburban. This low-density development is, for some, the very meaning of the current American Dream. However, it has been shown to spawn many unintended negative social, fiscal and environmental consequences,” said Leinberger.
The U-M offering is a graduate certificate program in real estate development that requires a completion of 17 credit hours. The course material is divided into six areas: an introduction to real estate development; real estate finance and investment; real estate and land use law; real estate in the context of urban development; design and implementation; and an integrative seminar. Credit hours range from 1.5 to 4, depending on the course.
Theories of urban design, sustainable development, strategic thinking for affordable housing, construction contracting, site planning, green development, and landscape analysis and planning are the subjects of some of the program’s 39 courses.
“It is broad-based in planning, design, finance, law — all the component parts of real estate development,” said Don Taylor, director of development for the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning.
“The people eligible to take it are people that are currently enrolled in graduate programs in engineering, architecture, urban planning, the MBA program in business, the JD program in law, and I think we’ve had maybe one or two public policy students,” said Taylor.
The real estate program turned five years old this fall and the university is in the process of hiring another professor to assist Leinberger, who divides his time between the University of Michigan and the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.
Taylor said the forum’s revenue is used to cover the program’s annual cost and thinks it someday will reach the prestige level of nationally prominent graduate programs such as the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.
“We’ve got all the parts in place. It’s just a matter of getting the program maturing some, and getting more alumni out there. We’d also like to have a master’s in real estate. Right now, this is just an add-on certificate program. But if someone is an MBA student and is interested in real estate, it’s a great program to take,” he said.
The U-M real estate program is, for now, a one-of-a-kind in the state. Michigan State University offers a program that focuses more on land-use issues than development. Central Michigan University has an undergraduate real estate program.
“The University of Michigan real estate program is committed to the new American Dream: a progressive approach to developing real estate and the built environment in the U.S. and worldwide,” said Leinberger.
Although the program is largely urban oriented, Taylor said the curriculum doesn’t ignore suburbs.
“We’re also interested in what do we do with our suburbs, because we’ve got some wonderful suburbs. Maybe we shouldn’t have had urban sprawl and built them, but we’ve got them, right?” he said.
“So how do we take those suburbs and create significant town centers with higher density, where we have mixed-use facilities with retail, commercial and residential. Instead of sprawling and spreading out, we can infill those communities and build town centers.”