ULI’s annual Fall Meeting is always informative, insightful, and interesting, and the 2011 event did not disappoint. While it certainly fulfilled its longstanding purpose as “the one place” for members to share ideas and network, this year’s meeting—which kicked off the Institute’s 75th anniversary celebration—was particularly focused on the long-term future of the industry and ULI.

Staying relevant and being adaptable were recurring themes in a variety of settings, from the ULI trustees’ meeting to the large general sessions. In his chairman’s remarks to those assembled for the meeting, Peter Rummell underscored the need for ULI to think young, in terms of stepping up its outreach to the next generation of land use leaders, and to think outside its traditional boundaries, in terms of expanding the membership base beyond those directly involved in investment and development. “As the Institute continues to evolve, ULI can keep its edge by reaching out to those whose best work is yet to come and by bringing in those with different perspectives on community building,” he said.

Several of the meeting’s keynoters pointed to a post-recession world marked by nations experiencing shifts in population and economic fortunes, and rapid urbanization in emerging markets—all of which is likely to result in significant changes in land use and urban development. And while this was emphasized in session after session, ULI’s role as a global leader in this time of change was perhaps most evident at the presentation of the ULI J.C. Nichols Prize for Visionaries in Urban Development. This year the prize was awarded to His Highness the Aga Khan, imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims, and leader of the nondenominational Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN). The Aga Khan is an unparalleled leader in development, cultural preservation, and philanthropy whose work has largely benefited poor and marginalized communities in Asia and Africa.

Luis Monreal, general manager of the Aga Khan Trust for Culture, accepted the prize on behalf of the Aga Khan. “Fully a third of World Heritage sites are in the Muslim world, but they are inhabited by some of the poorest people,” he said. “The central objective of our work, therefore, is to leverage culture in pursuit of poverty alleviation. We do this by bringing a critical mass of programs to bear—the creation of parks and gardens, heritage conservation, water and sanitation, microfinance, open space and infrastructure improvements, and education and health initiatives.”

The ability to work with the Aga Khan—truly a world leader in community building—represents an unprecedented opportunity for ULI to expand its reach and impact, and to reach new audiences. It will be an exciting part of our efforts to keep the Institute on the cutting edge for the 21st century.

This emphasis on looking ahead and thinking differently was also discussed during the Fall Meeting in conjunction with the release of a new ULI publication, What’s Next? Real Estate in the New Economy, which explores a variety of demographic, economic, financial, and environmental factors that are reshaping the built environment. The report examines changes in the economy, demographics, and the environment through a series of categories:

  • “Work” looks at new employment drivers and the impact of generation Y entering the workforce during a time when baby boomers are still working.
  • “Live” looks at changes in housing demand—in particular, the likelihood of greater demand for smaller homes and more rentals.
  • “Connect” looks at proximity from two angles—on the one hand, anticipating higher demand for mixed uses in order to cut down on the need to drive; and on the other, examining how technology enables people to live and work from anywhere and not need to be close to anything.
  • “Renew” contemplates new sources of energy and the impact they will have on investment and development.
  • “Move” takes on the issue of transportation investments and how to balance growing demand for transit alternatives with fewer resources to cover the costs.
  • “Invest” looks at the changes in the financial industry and how they are affecting the availability of capital for both the residential and commercial industries.

Together, these changes are of a magnitude that could transform our society. My takeaway from What’s Next?—and the Fall Meeting in general—is this: to stay relevant and be successful, we have to adapt quickly to a radically different environment. Land development is, by nature, a forward-looking enterprise. If we are to be successful for the next 75 years, the communities we shape now will have to serve the needs of those who follow after us.

As Peter Rummell told us, “Reinventing ULI does not mean forgetting where we’ve been. It means building on 75 years of success and adapting that for the 21st century.”