ULI’s Global Strategic Plan emphasizes strengthening member engagement by providing more opportunities to participate in the Institute’s unique member networks, including the highly popular Product Council network.

Nine Product Councils—including five new ones and four additional flights to existing councils—were added during FY 2018, opening up participation to 228 members who had never before served on a council, as well as 98 members who transferred membership or rejoined councils. The recruitment process was conducted primarily through Navigator, ULI’s member benefit that matches members to volunteer opportunities, with the expectation that associates who secured a seat would be expected to upgrade to full member status. As yet, 45 members have upgraded to take advantage of the opportunity; each of the councils met at the 2018 ULI Spring Meeting in Detroit and the 2018 ULI Fall Meeting in Boston.

The five new councils reflect a focus on issues identified by members as having a significant impact on the real estate industry: the Technology and Real Estate Council, chaired by immediate past ULI Global Chairman Randall K. Rowe; the Placemaking Council, chaired by former ULI Global Chairman Marilyn Jordan Taylor; the Travel Experience and Trends Council, chaired by former ULI Global Chairman Harry H. Frampton III; the Sharing Economy Council, chaired by ULI Foundation Board Member John J. Healy Jr.;  and the Suburban Development and Redevelopment Council, chaired by ULI Trustee Richard M. Gollis. Each of the leaders—all longtime participants in the Product Council program—agreed to serve as a chairman long enough to get the new councils established and ensure a smooth transition to new council leadership.

Their take on the new councils: The focus on a specific issue rather than a property type is providing a highly informative experience, in that the issues being discussed affect several property types, similar to those of councils such as the Sustainable Development Council and the Responsible Property Investment Council. In addition, the councils’ membership includes professionals outside the design and development arena, creating an environment in which there is as much to be learned as there is to be shared.

The impetus for a Technology and Real Estate Council came in 2015 at ULI’s Midwinter Meeting in Paris, which brought together leaders within and outside the real estate arena to discuss the change agents disrupting the industry, explained Rowe, chairman of Green Courte Partners in Chicago. “The desire for ULI members to be focused on this topic came across vividly at that meeting, so when I was asked to chair one of the new councils, what immediately came to my mind was tech and real estate,” he said. “It affects how we build, manage, sell, finance, and lease buildings. It affects how we get around. It truly impacts every aspect of the built environment.”

The creation of the Technology and Real Estate Council brought in new members from “outside the ULI tent” such as those involved with new energy technologies as well as venture capitalists to mix with real estate professionals, Rowe added. “It is a different mix. People ask questions of each other that they would not normally ask of their own peers. The interaction of the built world with the tech world is mutually beneficial, and I find this to be very exciting,” he said.

Healy, principal at Hyde Street Holdings, in Raleigh, North Carolina, pointed to the new business models created by disrupters such as Airbnb and Rent the Runway that are permeating the real estate industry. “Consumer behavior is proving that traditional real estate owners, operators, and managers should pay attention to these developments,” he said. “What better way to do this than through a ULI Product Council?” The Sharing Economy Council consists of a mix of real estate professionals, disrupters (some of whom joined ULI to serve on the councils), and service providers to both industries. “The fun part of the experience is meeting all the new players and listening to open discussions on new concepts,” Healy said.

“Placemaking is a collective opportunity to create and sustain vibrant and inclusive communities, so we’re excited about the role the Placemaking Council will play in advancing the ULI mission,” said Taylor, architect, former dean, and now professor of urbanism at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design. She noted that the broadened council experience is proving to be an excellent way of interacting with younger and more diverse ULI members, adding that several of the new participants on the Placemaking Council belong to the NEXT network of members aged 35 to 45 and to the Women’s Leadership Initiative. “It has been extremely refreshing to realize that there are whole new sets of relationships that are being built. It’s exciting to know that many of these new members will be the leadership in these new councils,” she said. “I am very inspired to be part of this.”

Frampton, chairman and founding partner of East West Partners in Avon, Colorado, said that chairing the Travel Experience and Trends Council is helping him “think outside the box” and be better prepared to anticipate change. “I am interested in the unique trends that affect the travel experience, whether for business or vacation, and the impact those trends will have on real estate in the future,” he said. “Change is happening faster now than ever before—there has been more change in the past 10 years than occurred during the entire 30 years prior that I have been in this business. As a result, it is more important than ever to understand the changes, and it is equally important for councils to be reflective of the changes affecting the industry, to be more attuned to external factors that affect development.”

Gollis, principal at the Concord Group in Newport Beach, California, noted that the geographic focus of the Suburban Development and Redevelopment Council provides an opportunity for broad discussions involving the relationship among public policies, urban planning, and all property types in suburban areas, as well as the connection to transportation. “We are looking at issues ranging from affordable housing to the redevelopment of shopping centers—anything outside the urban core,” he said. As chairman, he has kept the discussion format flexible to encourage free-flowing conversation among members. “That [dialogue] builds the kind of relationships that are generated by Product Council membership,” Gollis said. “Product Councils are about two things, one being how we [Product Council members] inform ULI’s program of work. The other is relationship building—knowing you have a colleague, mentor, or friend in the industry you can contact who’s ‘been there, done that.’”

While the content generated by the council discussions can be used to inform programming such as panels at major meetings, the council chairmen pointed to the need for an even broader dissemination of material that is not limited to council members. “Not only should we be creating content for sessions at meetings, but—when it is not violating confidentiality—we should be sharing more broadly what is coming out of these issue-focused councils so more people have an on-ramp to those topics,” Rowe said.

Learn more about opportunities for ULI members at Navigator.uli.org.