At the Institute’s 2011 Fall Meeting in Los Angeles last October, ULI leaders and staff shared accomplishments and lessons learned from the ULI/Curtis Regional Infrastructure Initiative, a three-year project in which ULI’s national staff worked intensively with District Council staff and members to design and implement ambitious, targeted programs to move the needle on infrastructure in the region.

Maureen McAvey, ULI executive vice president, moderated the panel, “ULI in Action on Transportation and Infrastructure: A Catalyst for Sustainable and Competitive Regions,” before a packed room.

ULI Trustee James Curtis: The ULI/Curtis Regional Infrastructure Initiative was made possible by funding from ULI trustee James Curtis. In explaining why he gave his large monetary gift to the Institute, Curtis said that a few years ago he looked around and asked himself how he was going to give back to the industry and to society.

“I saw ULI as something to leverage,” Curtis reported. “When you give money away, you need to decide what you believe in. And I believe that the future is not written in stone. The future is determined by the decisions you make.”

For Curtis, the project had three major takeaways overall, each relevant both to ULI as an organization and to the country at large:

1. Debalkanization of political jurisdictions and desiloing of thinking and approaches is critical;
2. How we position ourselves relative to austerity, and how we continue to do work that matters, will determine our future; and
3. Networking and convening are not enough. This project provided ULI with the opportunity to use its convening power—coupled with its research abilities—to engage members and leverage change.

Chicago Game-Changers: Stephen Friedman, president of SB Friedman Company, presented the work that ULI Chicago has undertaken to catalogue and analyze key “infrastructure game-changers” for the region. Designed to integrate land use in infrastructure decision-making, the game-changers process provides a powerful and innovative framework for understanding and analyzing potential infrastructure investments. As Friedman put it, the game-changers model provides a “useful thinking structure” for approaching catalytic infrastructure investments.

Connecting Transportation and Land Use in the Twin Cities: Jay Lindgren, attorney at Dorsey & Whitney in Minneapolis, chair of the ULI Infrastructure Advisory Committee, and cochair of ULI Minnesota’s infrastructure committee, shared the redevelopment toolbox developed by ULI Minnesota as part of the Curtis project. The problem, he said, is that, despite increased demand for sustainable, 21st-century places, due to capital constraints and declining public resources “redevelopment is harder than ever.”

To make it easier to do, ULI Minnesota, with the Regional Council of Mayors, formed the Connecting Transportation and Land Use (CTLUS) committee. CTLUS has recently developed and released a new toolkit and action plan, “Reinvesting in the Region,” to lay out practical, on-the-ground solutions and strategies to promote redevelopment in the Twin Cities. Reinvesting in the region, Lindgren said, identifies “what we need to do differently and what is missing right now.”

Florida: Deborah Orshefsky, shareholder at Greenberg Taurig, reviewed the Connecting Florida effort undertaken by all five of the ULI Florida District Councils. Led by ULI Southeast Florida, Connecting Florida focused on one issue: the need for policy makers to prioritize the development of balanced regional transportation systems, including transit, throughout the state.

The Connecting Florida effort helped educate Florida lawmakers about the importance of transit to the future of the state, adding to a groundswell of support for transit that culminated in an important vote in the state legislature preserving transit funding. “We are committed to finding a way to get people out of their cars in Florida,” Orshefsky said.

Bus Rapid Transit TOD: The Next Frontier? Kelly Mann, executive director of ULI Seattle, stood in for Denny Onslow, chief development officer for Harbor Properties, to review the District Council’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and Land Use Initiative,  The study team examined three station areas on two RapidRide corridors and addressed short-term development and design opportunities. To benchmark the analysis, ULI also prepared three BRT and land use case studies—the Cedar Avenue BRT in Minnesota, the MAX system in Kansas City, and the Health Line in Cleveland.

Next Steps: The ULI/Curtis Regional Infrastructure Initiative District Councils are continuing to leverage their work to position themselves as important regional thought and policy leaders. Through the Curtis program, ULI has pioneered new ways of working and organizing internally, and has also developed innovative new models and frameworks for engaging on critical issues of infrastructure and land use.