Patrick L. PhillipsOver a two-week period this fall, I had the opportunity to attend two ULI meetings, in two very different cities, with two equally different formats: a ULI Europe Leadership Retreat in Istanbul, Turkey, followed by the 2010 ULI Fall Meeting and Expo in Washington, D.C. The backdrop for the two meetings could not have been more different: the Istanbul retreat was an invitation-only event limited to about 100 top real estate professionals and their guests. The exclusivity was intended to emphasize a unique opportunity to candidly share insights in an intimate setting. Conversely, the fall meeting, which drew nearly 6,000 ULI members from the United States and abroad, tapped all aspects of the Institute’s highly interdisciplinary membership, and offered a wide range of networking and knowledge-sharing opportunities in a variety of venues. However, what both meetings had in common was this: a shared goal of providing members high take-home value not available from any other land use or real estate organization. In both cases, this goal was not just met, but exceeded.

The ULI Europe retreat focused heavily on urban growth issues related to emerging markets such as Istanbul, a very old “young” city (the median age is 25) and the fastest-growing city in Europe, but a place that is also grappling with how to support growth with adequate infrastructure, housing, medical and education facilities, and urban amenities necessary to foster a high quality of life.

ULI’s fall meeting looked at these and other issues, in terms of long-range and short-range ramifications for real estate, such as the impact of demographic shifts (generation Y, aging baby boomers, and immigrants) on future urban development patterns; the most promising industries and places for job prospects (medical, education, research, and technology hubs); the outlook for the economy (expect a slow recovery with capital markets starting to thaw during 2011); and the impact of mid-term congressional elections (expect federal government gridlock).

As is the case with any ULI event, the meetings in Istanbul and Washington offered much to digest. However, once all the conversations, opinions, and speculations were sorted out, the same message surfaced from both: now, perhaps more than ever, is the time for leadership in the responsible management of our built environment. Even during the most challenging economic environment, all land use professionals—whether in the private or public sector—must not lose sight of the end game, which is to create cities that withstand the test of time, and which will adapt to the new ways that future generations will use the built environment.

At the ULI Europe retreat, Istanbul Mayor Kadir Topbas told us: “Now is the time for leading cities to invest, to adapt, and to build sustainable cities for our people.”

At ULI’s fall meeting, we heard from Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, 2010 winner of the ULI J.C. Nichols Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development: “We have made progress in bringing people together to improve the quality of life in a great city. . . . We cannot allow a recession to get in the way of making progress. . . . We will not let the challenges of difficult times affect our hopes for the future.”

And from ULI Chairman Jeremy Newsum at the fall meeting: “We are not industry survivors. We are industry leaders. And true leadership is about making a positive difference in the lives of people around us, and the communities in which we’re involved.”

To be sure, the events in Istanbul and Washington provided a snapshot of how the Institute can be equally effective on a small or large scale. But of greater importance, they showed how ULI’s expertise in responsible land use has never been more necessary, or more relevant, to more places around the world.