When ULI’s immediate past chairman Jeremy Newsum concluded his term last month, he left a significant mark on the Institute. Unlike the leaders who guided ULI during the years of ambitious expansion, when Jeremy took office he had to confront an organization—and an industry—in crisis.

The threat was not existential. Wise stewardship by Jeremy’s predecessors and careful financial management since the downturn ensured ULI’s survival. But over the past two years, many questions emerged about the specific shape ULI would take as the industry started to recover from the Great Recession. In a period of less new development, would ULI’s mission be less relevant? Would our commitment to a global role waver? How could we be more nimble, be better integrated, and have more impact in our communities?

Despite the ongoing national funk in the United States, aggravated by the maddeningly uneven nature of the economic recovery, the mood this past May at ULI’s Real Estate Summit at the Spring Council Forum in Phoenix was—in a word—upbeat. I talked to many attendees who have retooled their business models, repositioned their assets, slimmed down their organizations, or otherwise found a way to prosper. True, many challenges remain, especially with respect to the availability of capital in the face of reduced asset values. Nevertheless, I was buoyed by the optimism.

Part of it, in my view, is that under Jeremy’s leadership ULI has rallied together, and, through the process of asking some tough questions, we have raised our collective view about what the Institute can accomplish. Let me highlight three significant advances.

First, the organization is better balanced. Our district councils (national councils in Europe) have been structurally reinforced and are operating as a system more effectively than ever. Additional work now underway with the district councils should begin to leverage even better operating economies, freeing up additional resources to advance ULI’s mission locally. At the same time, our global role continues to develop. Just last month, for example, Jeremy signed a memorandum of understanding with Singapore’s Center for Livable Cities, a partnering strategy that can extend our reach and impact throughout Asia.

Second, ULI’s trustees in Phoenix approved a far-reaching set of changes to the organization’s governance structure. Taken together, these adjustments should make ULI more responsive to the needs of its members, more transparent and open with respect to leadership opportunities, and better able to think strategically and long term.

Finally, a new set of organizational priorities, generated by the members themselves, has been captured and articulated. These new priorities are more consistent with the challenges our communities face in the coming years and are far more capable of engaging audiences beyond the borders of our organization. The new priorities act as a bridge between our far-reaching mission and the specific programs and initiatives we undertake. We intend to use the priorities as a lens through which we can begin to organize and execute ULI’s program of work.

ULI’s new chairman Peter Rummell has already highlighted an initiative to deepen the Institute’s appeal to a new generation of land use professionals. I am confident that the changes highlighted above help lay the groundwork for this with an organization that is better balanced, more open and strategic, and that has a set of clear, resonant priorities.

As we celebrate our 75th anniversary year, and as we continue to hope for a more consistent and durable global recovery, we can be confident that Jeremy’s leadership has left us a ULI better equipped to navigate the uncertainties of the next real estate and land use economy.

Jeremy Newsum, outgoing ULI Chairman, concluded his term June 30, 2011 and was interviewed at the Spring Council Forum in Phoenix, Arizona. Jeremy reflects upon his tenure as ULI’s Chairman, the shift in the activity and mood of the membership, his thoughts for the future of ULI, and Peter Rummell’s upcoming chairmanship.

Watch the video message from Jeremy Newsum.