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        Graduate Programs, Industry

        Learn about the future of urban trails and real estate development in virtual seminar

        May 11, 2021 By Joe McAdory

        All News



        What are the major opportunities and challenges developers face adjacent to urban trails? How can developers and urban trail leaders better partner with one another to achieve success? What value can urban trails bring to developments?

        These questions, and more, will be answered on Thursday, May 13, at CityBuilders’ 2021 Symposium: The Future of Urban Trails and Real Estate Development. Presented by Auburn University’s Master of Real Estate and Development Program, the 5 p.m. virtual event features leading experts who will share their perceptions of urban trails and their future impact on real estate developments and communities. Register to watch the event here.


        Jennifer Pharr Davis, who has hiked more than 14,000 miles across six continents, will moderate the urban trail leaders panel.

        Moderating the forum -- which features six trail leaders and five developers -- are Jennifer Pharr Davis, an accomplished hiker, author and speaker, and Greg Winchester, Adjunct Professor and Head of Industry and Alumni Relations for the Auburn MRED program. Pharr Davis, who was recognized as National Geographic’s Adventurer of the Year in 2012, will head the trail leaders’ panel. Winchester, who has 35 years of experience in banking, real estate and finance, will lead the developers’ panel.

        Panelists will share pros and cons of mixing urban trails and development projects, bounce ideas off of one another, share thoughts on conflicts and victories working within specific municipalities, and discuss the benefits urban trails can bring. “Why should the developer care about an urban trail?” Winchester asked. “What are the benefits and what are the headaches. This is a great opportunity for the real estate community speak to the trail leaders, and the trail leaders speak back to the real estate community.”


        Greg Winchester, Adjunct Professor and Head of Industry and Alumni Relations for the Auburn MRED program, will lead the developers' discussion.

        Why are urban trails, such as the Atlanta Beltline, Lakefront Trail in Chicago, Boardwalk Trail in Austin, Texas, or Scioto Trail in Columbus, Ohio, important? Pharr Davis said adding pedestrian or bicycle access adjacent to growing communities or development projects adds commercial value and appeal to residents and nearby retailers. However, she pointed out health, convenience and environment values other than commercial appeal.

        “We saw last year the importance of being outside and using our bodies,” said Pharr Davis, who has trekked more than 14,000 miles across six continents. “There are many studies that have shown how important it is to be outside and have green spaces available for emotional, physical and mental health. It encourages people to ride bikes, walk – do things they should be doing on a daily basis.

        “For some people, transportation is difficult or limiting. They might not have cars. For them, walkability to places with employment or resources is incredibly important. We must also view this from a conservation standpoint. This is a way to protect the greenways and corridors for plants and wildlife. It’s a win-win situation all-around to make our cities and towns more walkable and to implement more greenways, or trails, in urban areas.”

        Whereas urban trails offer promise, it also offers challenges. Take the Atlanta Beltline, which Winchester likened to beachfront property, for example.

        runner“The Beltline is in the news every day with something new going on and it will become some of the prime areas of real estate in the land once it’s done,” said Winchester, who pointed out Atlanta Beltline President and CEO Clyde Higgs will be among the panelists. “But one of the major points viewers will hear is how they want to preserve affordability around these areas. The Beltline started out, in many cases, in some blighted areas. Some of these areas have evolved to high-income areas, which can lead to displacement. The interesting issue is finding the balance and preserving affordability.”

        Pharr Davis noted where there is conflict, there can be common ground for the sake of progress. “Trail builders and developers have more in common than what separates them,” she said. “For the most part, they can be on the same team and work together. That’s the highlight of this symposium – how natural it is for developers and trail builders to partner. There can also be great incentives, or tax breaks, for developers to work with trail builders. Again, from a commercial standpoint walkability adds value. It’s a win-win.”

        Winchester believes the developer-trail leader symposium is the first of its kind. “That’s why we went after it – it’s cutting edge,” he added. “Everybody is talking about what COVID-19 is doing to real estate. If anything, COVID-19 made this a more popular topic.”