Youth Urban Leadership Program

The Youth Urban Leadership Program (YULP) is an effort to engage NYC students in the equity-driven urban planning process and field

A key issue preventing a more diverse urban planning field is the simple fact that young people have often never heard of planning and related disciplines as possible career paths. Also, current urban planners often fail to reach young people in their process—leaving out some of the most important and creative voices in the decision-making process. 

YULP’s mission is to connect DivComm’s network of professionals with youth and spark an interest in urban planning and civic engagement, particularly among BIPOC and other underrepresented individuals. We do this by holding workshops, panels, and career days with youth ranging from elementary through the undergraduate level.

Our flagship initiative, the Youth Urban Leadership Program Fellowship, began in 2019 as a partnership between DivComm, The Mission Society of NY, and ELLIS Preparatory Academy under Mission’s Learning to Work program.  More than 30 DivComm volunteers led three urban planning cohorts of Junior and Senior students at the ELLIS Academy to complete innovative projects that address neighborhood problems. The young urban planners led their own planning processes by conducting research, engaging with community members and stakeholders, and preparing deliverables. 

Students participating in YULP learn about new professions and career paths in urban planning and design, public policy and government, economic and community development, transportation and sustainability, and public engagement. We believe that bringing young people into the planning process is critical to creating more equitable cities, as they bring a unique perspective on how they occupy or are excluded from public spaces and institutions. Through our work, we hope to increase the role young people play in planning their city.

Confronting the issue of street litter head on, the 2022 team sought to find solutions that align with community needs. 

The student team designed a new garbage container prototype to contain a greater amount of garbage and have a cleaner area at the same time to prevent overflowing trash and disease spread.

Unsightly trash common in NYC

Facing another school year of uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 team looked to make it easier for students with long commutes to get to school. 

With many concerns around the return to in-person learning at ELLIS, the young urban planners polled their fellow students to examine the feasibility of a student-only shuttle option for those who have the longest commutes.  Their findings revealed a large number of students typically arrive to school late and found many felt uneasy about their daily travels to-and-from campus.

A tour in 2021

While all virtual in 2020, the urban planning team led by two returning seniors created a community-driven plan to reimagine the Kingsbridge Armory building in the Bronx.

The team engaged community members through visioning sessions using Zoom breakout rooms and distributed an online survey that drew almost 250 responses. Using the feedback, they created a 3D model of the Armory using the video game Minecraft. They proposed converting the Armory into a hockey sports center in the space won out of a 2013 community benefits agreement.

The Kingsbridge Armory building in the Bronx

The first project created a plan to improve service along the Bx9 bus route – a well used route by students near the ELLIS Academy.

 The urban planning team identified this project following a draft report to redesign all Bronx bus routes that proposed minimal changes to the Bx9. The team surveyed bus users at stops and on-board, gathered feedback on concerns, and identified most common community destinations. The final proposal was an express bus route with strategically placed stops, represented by a scale model of the neighborhood. The team won the APA New York Metro Chapter’s William H. Whyte award for creativity and ingenuity in planning.

Presentation at the Hindsight Conference

Sign up to advise student fellows on their projects or to facilitate workshops introducing them to your planning work.

Contact the coordinators

Nate Heffron
Ebony Wiggins

Download information about YULP

Click these links to download PDF information about the Youth Urban Leadership Program.

General program

Student fellowship

Volunteer roles

Program staff