The story of the Center for Urban Redevelopment Excellence (CUREx) at the University of Pennsylvania is one of flexibility and responsiveness. Funded from 2003 to 2006 by the Knight Foundation, the program matched three cohorts of 2-year fellows with real estate redevelopment firms, improving the program each year with feedback from both fellows and host organizations.

The managers of CUREx placed high priority on coordination and clear communication with all participants about expectations, along with  adaptation to new information. This responsiveness made CUREx a model for other urban fellowship programs, leaving a legacy of pragmatism in urban fellowship design.

When CUREx began in 2003, it originally targeted new urban professionals seeking to break into the redevelopment field. In 2004, CUREx shifted emphasis when it became clear that more experienced applicants were needed, and that instead of recruiting new talent, the program was better situated to prepare mid-career professionals for leadership roles. Host organizations sought technically skilled candidates to make management contributions, and in turn worked to develop fellows’ management and technical expertise.

Training and support also evolved. CUREx provided more “hard skills” training, while still equipping fellows with an overview of and perspective from urban redevelopment experience in cities throughout the United States.

Perhaps the best confirmation of the successful adaptability and flexibility of the CUREx urban fellowship model is the influence it has had on subsequent fellowship programs. In collaboration with the University of New Orleans, CUREx went on to train and deploy 25 shorter-term interns to aid redevelopment and assist with the provision of housing and community projects in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Long-term programs, including the Detroit Revitalization Fellows and the Smart Cities, Smart Communities Fellowship Program also looked to and learned from the CUREx model.

-Sheila Keyes

For more information about lessons learned through CUREx, download the Knight Foundation final report here.