Outgoing ULI Global Chairman Thomas Toomey speaking at the 2019 Spring Meeting in Nashville.

Outgoing ULI Global Chairman Thomas Toomey reflected on the Institute’s uniqueness as well as its future as an organization with a strong philanthropic culture during remarks made at the 2019 Spring Meeting’s closing session.

“First, what makes [ULI] unique is that our work, performed by ULI members and real estate leaders, changes people’s lives by changing cities for the better. No other real estate institution comes close to doing so much for so many,” Toomey said. “Second, ULI is unique in that membership is a life journey. It supplements your education as well as your professional growth during the early-to-mid part of your career, and it encourages mentorship and legacy-building in the later years. Third, ULI is a mission-driven organization whose mission—while set forth 80 years ago—is needed more than ever now and in the future, as our cities face so many challenges. That also makes it unique.”

Toomey pointed to the development and implementation of the Institute’s Global Strategic Plan as one of the highlights of his chairmanship. The plan, based on member feedback and created by ULI’s leadership and staff executive team, seeks to improve the member experience by strengthening member engagement and impact.

He noted that during his travels as global chairman, he was struck by the similarity of the issues faced by nearly every urban area in which members operate. “Diversifying the economy, increasing affordable housing, improving transportation, and strengthening resilience are just as important in Asia Pacific and Europe as they are in the Americas. Clearly, ULI’s expertise on these and other issues has never been more necessary in more places than it is today,” he said.

Helping the organization do more will require growing a culture of philanthropy, Toomey said. As part of the Strategic Plan, he is working with Foundation Chairman Douglas Abbey and other leaders on a strategy to significantly grow the Foundation’s resources over the next several years. The additional funds will be used to support an expansion of ULI’s existing work that includes:

  • A greater focus on solutions to urban development challenges;
  • A greater emphasis on education, mentoring, and thought leadership; and
  • Greater opportunities for members.

All the resources raised through philanthropic engagement flow back to mission-oriented work at the global, regional, and local levels, “creating better communities and ultimately benefiting all of us as members,” Toomey said. “If the Foundation funds an advisory panel to help one area of a community, the whole community benefits. And if you have assets in that community, you are going to benefit. Or, if the Foundation helps brings UrbanPlan to your community, you will benefit from better-educated students and more-engaged stakeholders.”

Toomey cited four areas of universal relevance for consideration as philanthropic investment opportunities:

  • Workforce and affordable housing: Building on the Terwilliger Center’s work, ULI is aiming to fund an initiative to establish ULI as the global thought leader in housing affordability best practices.
  • Building for resilience: ULI is seeking to expand its resilience and climate initiative to make the Institute the leader in helping owners, managers, and cities become more resilient to natural and human-made disasters.
  • Education and diversity: Building on the success of UrbanPlan, ULI is seeking to create and sustain an education pipeline that integrates ULI content into curricula offered in high schools and universities, as well as professional development courses for young professionals and public officials. The institute also is placing more emphasis on programs to increase diversity and inclusivity within ULI and the industry in general.
  • Thought leadership: ULI is aiming to establish a new global center for real estate practice to address universal challenges faced by the industry and by cities. This center would tap the expertise of the Institute’s global, multidisciplinary membership to create and highlight ways to address a range of urban issues.

“All of this is very doable—and very necessary. As our world changes, we need to expand what ULI offers, so the Institute can keep attracting the best and brightest minds to help it evolve further,” Toomey said.

“If I have learned nothing else as chairman, I have learned this: ULI’s role is to inspire the creation of great communities. As ULI members, that is our legacy, and we must carry that forward.”

Toomey’s term as global chairman ends on June 30. He will be succeeded by ULI Trustee and ULI Foundation Governor Owen Thomas, who is chief executive officer of Boston Properties New York City.