Chairman’s Report from the 2012 ULI Spring Meeting


Thank you. It’s great to be in Charlotte — a city that clearly is full of energy and innovation. ULI has a long history with Charlotte — one that includes more than two decades of help from advisory service panels. Since 1990, ULI has had no less than 14 advisory panels in the Charlotte metro area. Our panelists have looked at everything from remaking the downtown core to transforming a university research park to reinventing a struggling mall. You don’t have to look hard to see that the city is growing and thriving, and it’s nice to think ULI has been involved in helping this great growth.

When I spoke to you last fall, I talked about several forces of change — demographic, economic, environmental and social — that are reshaping our industry and our communities. ULI had just released What’s Next, a publication that examined the impact of these changes on the way we will live and work in the years ahead. Over the course of this year, we have been collecting information from our district councils, individual ULI members and other thought leaders on how they are adapting to this great time of change. We’ll be sharing their thoughts, ideas and actions at the fall meeting in Denver as a follow-up to the What’s Next publication.

In discussions related to What’s Next, this post-recession time is often referred to as the “new economy” or the “next economy.” I recently heard another term that struck me as a particularly apt indicator of the enormity of this change. It’s called the “sharing economy.”

Many of you may recall that this past March, ULI received the Honor Award from the National Building Museum in Washington, DC. It was a wonderful night for ULI, but perhaps the most interesting part was the keynote speech by Steve Case. Steve was the founder of America Online, the forerunner to all the social media tools in use today. In his remarks, Steve predicted that the business of real estate and community building will be transformed by what he called the sharing economy. He described this as an environment in which cars, as well as working and living spaces, will be increasingly shared by urban residents.

Steve left AOL in 2003 and now heads up a company called Revolution, which invests in consumer-oriented businesses such as the very successful Zipcar. It’s a service that makes cars available for specific periods of time — it’s a handy option for urban residents who might need a car to run errands or for special occasions, but don’t use one every day. This same concept is being used for bicycle sharing programs in urban areas, and it’s also being applied more frequently to the use of office space. The idea is this: it’s there when you need it, and it’s there for someone else to use when you don’t. Steve’s theory is that this sharing economy is a trend that is just beginning, one that will be fueled by the next phase of the Internet revolution. And, he sees enormous linkage to real estate and land use.

He’s absolutely right. Today’s world is one of shifting priorities, particularly for the millennial generation. The mindset of Gen Yers is that a sound financial future is far more likely if they rent, and are able to move quickly for good jobs, than if they are tethered to an area by homeownership. Whether it’s housing or cars, they tend to be more interested in temporary use than the permanence of owning. This is the world of what’s next, and we need to be ready.

As land use professionals, we need to be ready for what this means for planning, design and development. And, just as importantly, as ULI members, we need to be ready for what this means in terms of attracting the brightest and best to the Institute.

As I said last fall, thinking young is one of my personal priorities as ULI chairman. To keep ULI at the top of its game, we must be able to offer the next generation fresh ideas, insights and business strategies they can’t get anywhere else. They don’t need us to get market information and data. The ubiquity of the Internet means today’s young professionals have instant access to information anytime, anywhere. What they need from us is ULI’s take on that information — what it means and how to best use it — not just to advance their projects or their careers, but to build better communities.

What they are going to be dealing with is very different than what we faced when we entered the industry. A case in point is the recent ULI Gerald Hines Student Urban Design Competition. This year, the university teams were charged with creating a proposal to redevelop a post office site in downtown Houston that is slated to be sold by the US Postal Service. The fact that the facility has been made obsolete by information technology makes it a perfect example of the adaptive reuse challenges that will be more common in the years ahead.

Young people interested in land use want to want to take risks. They want to experiment. Our challenge is to leverage their enthusiasm, engage them and give them a stake in the future of the Institute. One of the reasons I like Steve Case’s sharing theory is that this notion of an economy driven by sharing — whether it’s sharing space, material goods, or information – is a perfect metaphor for ULI’s culture of sharing knowledge. ULI can attract younger members with its credibility and candor. By sharing our mistakes and our successes, we can influence their community building decisions. And, the decisions they make will last long after we’ve left the industry.

This culture of sharing is also ULI’s key tool for broadening the membership base, in terms of range of disciplines, global reach, thought leadership and new partners. This ties in to my second personal priority as ULI Chairman, which is for us to think differently about who should be part of ULI. To me, this means more than reaching out to other developers or architects or investors in the U.S. or Europe or Asia. Again, like Steve Case, it means reaching out to all the decision makers who influence what is being built and how it shapes the urban landscape.

Next week, I’ll be speaking in Beijing at ULI’s first-ever Real Estate Summit in mainland China. It’s turned out to be a big draw that far exceeded our expectations for attendance and sponsorships. We’re getting a very encouraging response from a part of the world that is making a dramatic impact on the built environment. And my message in Beijing will be this: ULI’s presence in Asia benefits the entire organization. We can stretch our thinking and create successful communities by learning from each other.

ULI is in Asia for the same reason ULI is in the Americas and Europe, and that is to exchange ideas and expertise. To talk with those outside our traditional parameters about how communities will be experienced in the years ahead. To get different perspectives on how we, as ULI members, can create communities that meet new expectations for livability, amenities, flexibility, mobility and choice.

In my view, ULI has a limited time to adapt for the future. We can’t lead the way to the future if we can’t figure out how we will fit into it. Otherwise, talking about what’s next will devolve into what the hell happened?

In this regard, the board of directors has been looking at revamping ULI’s membership structure. One piece of this involves simplifying the membership process – making it more affordable and more available. Another relates to offering tailored services that meet the different needs of longtime supporters as well as newcomers. We need to get the right value proposition for members at all levels in their careers.

The board has been making great progress, and we can expect results by the fall meeting. The point is to position ULI to attract and retain those who can best help the Institute move forward and be effective locally and globally. This will ensure that ULI keeps its standing as the preeminent global land use authority. And we will all benefit from a better-informed approach to land use leadership for the 21st century.

We’ve got a great program ahead of us the next two days. Thank you for being here, for supporting ULI, and for contributing to ULI’s dialogue about creating vibrant, sustainable cities, and, I look forward to seeing all of you next October in Denver.

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