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The chairmanship of the Urban Land Institute is getting ready – as it does every two years – to change hands. On deck now is Jeremy Newsum, who is also an executive trustee with Grosvenor in London. Newsum’s background as owner and developer of real estate will be particularly helpful with world markets in such turmoil, he tells GlobeSt.com. “If nothing else it puts in perspective that real estate, and its related issues, is constantly evolving. Cities, for example, are a living entity that continually change.” The long term view that developers must take in their planning process, will also be key to his new role. “No doubt about it – these are difficult times right now. What is important is that we stick to our long term perspective and not panic about the current situation.”

GlobeSt.com recently sat down with Newsum to talk about his plans for ULI.

GlobeSt.com: What new themes or topics would you like to see addressed under your tenure?

Newsum: The role of chairman is two years – so continuity is very important for us. In other words, lurching from one direction to another based on the personal goals of the chairman is not productive at all. ULI will be continuing to focus on the priorities that have been set for some time. So you can expect to see a continued focus on infrastructure, affordable housing, green development and the capital markets as they relate to real estate.

GlobeSt.com: In the last few years the tone or tenor over the debate on infrastructure has changed dramatically. How will that impact ULI’s research and advocacy of this issue?

Newsum: Certainly I would agree that the tone has changed – there appears to be a greater recognition of the need to upgrade infrastructure now and not to put it off. This recognition can only help us on this issue.

GlobeSt.com: What about the various proposals to pay for infrastructure upgrades? I am not speaking of stimulus funds but of private sector participation in these investments – there are many permutations of this model, such as investment funds or build-own-transfer or build-own-operate structures, more often seen overseas. In other words, now that the will to upgrade is apparently here, what about the means? Will there be a greater focus on that?

Newsum: The fascinating thing about infrastructure investment is that there are multiple examples around the world illustrating how it can be tackled — you pointed out a few ways, but there are more. What I have learned is that there isn’t a single right approach or angle – and I am suspicious of anyone who says there is. It is important to be aware of all the choices that are available. The one common thread is that leadership is needed to make any of this happen.

GlobeSt.com: Besides infrastructure — what other issues are important to ULI right now?

Newsum: Affordable housing is very important to us. There is a worldwide trend of key workers being driven away from the cities or areas where they work by high housing costs. They simply can’t afford to live close to or in these cities or towns. And this issue is connected with our focus on infrastructure – if workers are forced to live so far away from their livelihoods they should have a way of getting there.

GlobeSt.com: That is also tied up with the issue of sustainability.

Newsum: Yes, it is all inter-related. One key tenant of sustainability is affordable housing that is close to work centers or at least points of mass transit.

GlobeSt.com: You also mentioned capital markets. Given the state of the markets right now, what will ULI hope to contribute to this issue?

Newsum: We can’t influence capital markets. Our focus is on pointing to ways on which they could operate in the future. What we could like to see happen is the industry recapturing the agenda.

GlobeSt.com: What do you mean by that?

Newsum: Instead of the industry developing viable financing plans, in the recent past that has been driven by the finance community – deals and products have been developed and driven by Wall Street, not developers. That will have to change.

GlobeSt.com: Let’s talk more about sustainability. What will ULI be looking at going forward?

Newsum: We want to more closely examine what is happening in Europe and Australia, where they have been grappling with these issues for some time. Especially in Europe, where the impact of climate change is expected to be more extreme, they are looking at and moving forward with some interesting models. That is where we can be very useful — collecting and disseminating that knowledge.

GlobeSt.com: Climate change is another subject where the sense of urgency has increased. Are you seeing more interest from groups or institutions or companies in ULI and its work because of it?

Newsum: Definitely. In fact I think ULI has more to offer by taking this information outside its usual membership base. What we need to do is organize and package that knowledge in ways that are useful to more people.

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