It has been said many times over recent years that the real estate industry must adapt to the changed conditions it finds itself in—be it coping with economic uncertainty, accessing bank debt, or simply growing a business in an era of flat growth.

Innovation—particularly at a time when taking risks in business is not encouraged—is not always easy. But to stay competitive in this new environment, finding new ways of working is imperative, according to a panel of speakers at the “Big Ideas from Industry’s Next Generation” debate, held at the Urban Land Institute’s recent 16th annual European conference.

The session—moderated by Igor Sancisi, real estate consultant and property developer at Cooper Seldman—was designed to offer a platform for new ideas, presented by three members of ULI’s Young Leaders, a program established to provide a forum for the next generation of real estate leaders to communicate with the leaders of today.

The three candidates, whose ideas were chosen  because of their creativity and feasibility, offered to delegates their thoughts on innovative solutions for the future.

Yvette Govaart, a consultant and area developer for the Govaart Consultancy, was first to present her thesis on transition and leadership, and started with the premise that a “huge part” of value in the world is gone. “There is a huge mismatch between anticipated and real value,” she said.

Her solution, therefore, was an “overall devaluation of everything we value,” suggesting that the industry needed to base business cases on “realism,” not big growth numbers. “That might mean our business cases aren’t feasible anymore,” she said.

Govaart—who recently launched her own company—added that the industry needed to focus on “holistic quality,” asking questions about what society gains from a particular development.

“There is a big difference between those in the industry [who] are above 50 and the next leaders. The former face problems with devaluing their college funds, houses, pensions—it is not easy. But on the other hand, our generation doesn’t have these concerns. Why don’t we think of something together to make landing softer?”

Next up on the podium was Jan van Bakel, arguing the case for investing in Africa. “I don’t dismiss the risks but believe in great potential for growth in Africa,” said van Bakel, citing the forecast that by 2040, 1.1 billion Africans would be of working age, while half of the population would be living in cities.

“We have heard during this conference how important demographics are to our industry. Instead of seeing the least developed countries as poor and weak, we should recognize their potential. I [firmly believe] that over the next 30 years there will be investment potential, so we should start now by devising strategies that will help us capture that.”

Lawyer Sarah Punshon, an associate at Wragge & Company who specializes in planning and regeneration, then followed with her proposals on sustainable urban transport. “Urban planning is vital to our vision of the future. There are many factors that keep transport at the bottom of the agenda, but we need to make it a priority.”

Punshon said that incentives were needed to change behavior, and that the real estate industry needed to create spaces and design buildings that catered to the needs of cyclists.

Replicating innovative projects was a sensible way forward, she explained, citing the success of London’s public bicycle-sharing initiative, which followed similar programs in cities such as Paris and Copenhagen. “We should back schemes that have been an enormous success to ensure money is not wasted.”

Her ideas struck a chord with ULI chair Peter Rummell, who said, “Sarah should be on the staff of ULI because we spend an enormous amount of time thinking about this issue. In my opinion, it often comes down to political issues; there needs to be the will to get it done.”

The audience voted for their favorite idea, resulting in a straight tie among all three candidates.