Chairman’s Report From the 2012 ULI Fall Meeting

An excerpt of ULI Chairman Peter S. Rummell‘s report to Fall Meeting attendees on Oct. 18, 2012:

Over the past 12 months, ULI has been busy – even by ULI’s high standards for what defines busy. We’ve met with new partners and brought in new members from different places around the world — all of whom share ULI’s goal of creating communities that withstand time and change.

In doing this, we’ve talked a lot about the need to rethink urban development for the 21st century. It’s a theme that started at ULI’s 75th anniversary celebration at the 2011 meeting in Los Angeles. As part of that, we released a report called What’s Next: Real Estate in the New Economy. It was a wake-up call about the economic, social and environmental issues that are changing the business of city building. The point was to start a dialogue about the ramifications, and how to prepare for change.

Since then, ULI has convened members and other experts from all over the globe to get their best thinking on this.  Our leadership and staff have talked with public- and private-sector leaders from Tennessee to Pakistan about building better cities for the future.

The places ULI has reached are marked by sharp contrasts. They have very different demographics, cultures, economies and governance. But, despite these differences, they are all grappling with the same challenges.  They’re dealing with:

  • Volatile capital markets
  • Communications technology that’s changing every aspect of how people live, learn and work
  • A growing wealth gap between the rich and poor; and, in general,
  • How to provide the basic components of cities, such as: Open space. Energy and water supplies. Affordable housing. Transportation systems.

On top of all this is an additional challenge. It’s one that is perhaps most relevant to the U.S — but is also a factor in Europe and Asia. And that is how to meet the lifestyle needs and preferences of two hugely influential generations: aging parents and their children. Of course, in the U.S., these are baby boomers and Gen Y.

Gen Y, at 80 million strong, is even larger than the baby boom generation, at 75 million. Either by choice or necessity, they are foregoing purchases of big homes and expensive cars. Instead, they are renting apartments and using Zipcars for a few hours when they need one.

They think short-term — not long-term — about where they live and work. And when they do buy homes or cars, chances are they will buy only what they need, rather than as much as they can afford. They will spend what money they have on the latest tech tool. For the most part, they will live in urban centers or inner-ring neighborhoods to be near work and friends.

Aging baby boomers are another story, and one that is certainly no less complicated. Eight thousand baby boomers will turn 65 every day for the rest of this decade. They are healthy, active, and they will keep working for years, because many will outlive their savings if they don’t.

Where and how they live will be a mixed bag. Some will age in place, some will move near their grandkids. But the majority will not be heading for isolated adult communities. Like Gen Y, they will be more likely to live closer in – particularly near educational and medical facilities — than further out.

Making sense of what all this means is no easy task. We’ve synthesized what we’ve learned over the past year into a follow-up What’s Next report. It focuses on getting ahead of change, rather than just trying to keep up.

The main take away is this:  To get ahead in this complex environment, we have to adapt. We have to adjust. We have to be flexible. And, above all, the real opportunities for success and leadership are tied to how well we reuse what we’ve already built.

What’s Next highlights examples of innovation such as:

  • An abandoned hula hoop factory in Newark that is now a film production studio;
  • An old lumber yard in Malibu rebuilt into upscale retail; and
  • An obsolete department store in Chicago remade into university classrooms

This is the type of creativity that will define city building in the 21st century.

In this time of rethinking and rebuilding, ULI’s impact has perhaps never held more potential. We’re making a difference globally and locally. We’re leading change globally through idea exchanges with new partners such as the World Economic Forum.  We’re leading change with new thought leaders such as those at our conference in Beijing last spring, and our summit in Bellagio, Italy this past summer.

And, we’re leading change at the local level, where our district councils and national councils are front and center, making a difference in how our urban areas are growing.

Last fall, as part of the 75th anniversary celebration, ULI announced 30 grants totaling $500,000 that were awarded to district and national councils through the Urban Innovation Fund program. The grants were provided by the ULI Foundation to catalyze new ways for ULI to lead locally. And the councils did not disappoint.

For instance:

  • ULI Nashville produced a Music City Infrastructure Report Card that assesses the city’s current and future transportation needs
  • ULI Boston produced a report on the city’s congested transit system and the impact on future economic growth; and
  • Florida’s five district councils collaborated to host a statewide conference focusing on building better communities through public-private partnerships

In these and many other cases, the work of our district councils is the catalyst for change. Their work is providing new insights and new perspectives that will lead to better decisions about how our cities grow.  And, I’m proud to say that we are keeping the momentum going by awarding $250,000 more in urban innovation grants this week.

Without question, the impact we make locally strengthens the impact we make globally. Our success is measured by what we accomplish city-by-city, region-by-region, around the world.

What we’ve achieved this year – through initiatives both global and local – represents great progress in broadening our influence — in making ULI matter to more people in more places. We’re reaching experienced thought leaders who will enrich our intellectual capital, and strengthen our impact.

I have high hopes for what ULI can accomplish. It’s trusted and respected around the world. And, we need to ensure that it stays that way — by attracting not only the old and wise, but the young and smart. I want to see ULI build on the progress we’ve made through programs such as the Hines competition and our outreach to Young Leaders.

A nagging worry of mine is that ULI — and the industry itself — may be at risk of losing young professionals who don’t see real estate as being as appealing or as interesting as other professions.  It’s ironic, because there probably has never been a more interesting time to be in real estate.

It’s at the center of all these forces of change that are reshaping our work.  And, to get city building right, we need the best thinking. Not just from seasoned experts who’ve seen it done wrong, but from newcomers whose fresh ideas and creativity can keep us from repeating the past.

It’s up to us to show the next generation that a career in land use is a way to make an impact. A way to make a meaningful difference in whether places are truly livable or just tolerable.  And, with talent, good timing, common sense, and a little luck, they can even make some money in the process.

ULI’s 75th anniversary marks a new time for our institute. One that will be defined by the impact ULI makes as a convener…. content aggregator…. and consensus builder. ULI’s impact can turn big ideas and bold visions into reality.

Thank you for being part of this great organization. All of you are helping ULI make a difference.


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