Organizations and Events

ULI’s Fall Meeting Challenges the Return to ‘Normal’

by Emily Langner

The Urban Land Institute (ULI) held its Fall Meeting, both in-person and digitally, on Oct. 11-14 in Chicago. This year’s meeting covered a wide range of topics, including biophilic design; affordable housing; advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion; community planning for extreme weather; and how the Covid pandemic has influenced trends in mixed-use development, retail and entertainment, and travel and events facilities.

A major focus of this year’s meeting was the future of office development. In the session, Lessons Learned from the Pandemic: The Role of the New Office in a Post-COVID World, John Rivard, chief investment officer for Accesso, and Alejandro Romero, associate director of Investments at Accesso, examined the effects of the pandemic and how companies are using office space. With occupancy levels currently at around 36%, the pandemic has led to the worst recession the office sector has ever faced. Rivard and Romero said they expect to see a continued shift away from working in urban office environments and toward suburban offices, driven by a desire for quality of life and working closer to home. They concluded that “part time working from home is here to stay for many companies as employees favor flexibility, but providing the option of going to an office will remain imperative for attracting and retaining strong talent, as well as establishing and showcasing company culture.”

In the session, How Developers of Life-Sciences Ecosystems Fuel Resilient Communities, panelists explored the life sciences sector and the strong demand for lab-ready real estate around the world. Meghan Webster, principal at Gensler, pointed out the importance of coming together in physical lab spaces and its effect on productivity and innovation. She said in-person connection builds trust, inspires collaboration, and provides an important connection to an organization’s mission. Webster also highlighted the importance of “inclusive innovation” on the future success of life sciences ecosystems. She said organizations are recognizing that “there is a potential within the immediate community to be able to drive the future talent in a much more diverse and inclusive way.”

The session entitled, Build Back Better: The Mandate and the Opportunity, focused on laying the foundation for “a more resilient, equitable and inclusive future where opportunity and prosperity are shared by all.” Amy Liu, vice president and director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at The Brookings Institution, said, “every community should have the aspiration to produce high quality jobs and create wealth in their communities, in their local economies, with racial and economic inclusion at the center of that.”

ULI and PwC also shared the Emerging Trends in Real Estate 2022 report, which highlights the evolving trends shaping the real estate industry. The report states that Covid-19 has left a lasting “wait and see” approach on society, that flexibility and resilience currently dominate the industry, and that “consumer expectations of traditionally designed spaces have changed, and there will likely be a massive shift in the functionality of homes, offices, shopping centers and healthcare spaces.” In the report, Anita Kramer, senior vice president of ULI’s Center for Real Estate Economics and Capital Markets, says opportunities are emerging “to lay the foundation for a new vision for our communities, one in which we repurpose obsolete buildings, reduce carbon emissions, and create more affordable housing.”

Emily Langner is editor at High-Profile Monthly.