A Millennial Perspective: Recapping the Urban Land Institute Annual Fall Meeting
As a first time attendee of the Annual ULI Fall Meeting, I was blown away by the diverse professionals that make up the real estate industry. This year’s fall meeting took place in Boston. The city was the perfect backdrop as it has experienced quite a bit of growth while dealing with issues of affordability and retaining its Millennial population which ranks second to San Francisco.
Boston is heralded for its architecture, schools, and seafood. However, public transportation in the city is disparate and disconnected. Additionally, affordable housing in the city has become a pipe dream with more new luxury apartment buildings in development making more Millennials flee the city as they get older.
Interestingly enough, the conference was hosted in the Seaport area of Boston, an up and coming neighborhood where 100-year old warehouses and modern architecture surround green space. Seaport in many ways showcases the Millennial dilemma. The neighborhood embodies all Millennial qualities but lacks affordability and access to transportation to commute easily. Even my commute from Cambridge to Seaport was heavily reliant on Lyft during the conference. Ultimately, being a Millennial, I enjoyed experiencing the conference in a city that is trying to plan for their younger population. The Boston “City of Millennials” report is linked here.
ULI further catered to Millennials by offering a coffee connections program hosted by Bank of America. Being younger in the real estate industry can be challenging as it is very dependent on networking. The purpose of the program is to match a young leader with a seasoned professional for a one hour conversation regarding career development. Sohaani Perera, Senior Manager of Corporate Accounts at ULI, did a phenomenal job of matching me with John Wolff, Senior Vice President at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Although, John and I had different backgrounds (he handled more of the financial side of commercial transactions), he was able to find common ground and help me envision a ten-year plan for myself. We discussed a variety of topics including my personal favorite: millennials as homebuyers. Millennials are always looking for mentors as they help foster ideas to create a path of success. According to Forbes:
“Millennials don’t want (nor will respond to) an archaic management system that dictates rules and constraints – this generation craves mentors that guide and inspire them.”
To further their opportunities for mentorship, the Women’s Leadership Initiative of ULI hosted a night of curated conversations at WeWork. This event was my favorite because it was an opportunity to meet Millennial leaders that are disrupting the industry. The keynote address was given by Vivianna Schwoerer, Global Head of Real Estate Transactions. Vivianna explained WeWork’s model of acquisition and unprecedented growth they have faced as they become one of the largest real estate holding companies in the world nearly valued at $20 billion. WeWork has been an anomaly as most do not realize they own their real estate, making them more of a real estate company over a co-working space organization.
I also had the pleasure of meeting the Millennial founders of Girl UNinterrupted, Zhanina Boyadzhieva and Juliet Chun. Girl UNinterrupted began as a survey to understand the gap between young female architects/designers and their counterparts to create a more equitable workplace. Both Zhanina and Juliet are working on expanding to various cities around the country. Millennial women are changing conversation regarding workplace structure. They are demanding more responsibility, asking for flexibility, and seeking transparency with autonomy. Girl UNinterrupted challenges architecture firms to better their environments and foster their female colleagues’ full potential. Millennial women are not just changing the workplace, they are disrupting real estate and fostering new connections such as real estate and art.
Emily Isenberg is a force to be reckoned with, she takes place making to another level. Isenberg Projects has worked on “over 100 pop-ups, public art projects, food and retail concepts” over the past year. Emily has a desire to promote experiential marketing and has utilized art as a bridge between communities. She left me wondering how we can bring more art into the fold of real estate development. When I asked her how to convince clients to integrate art, her response was data. Her answer should have been a no brainer to me as Millennials do love data. She reminded me that taking our love of data and synthesizing the information to make it relatable and relevant are how minds can be changed. Emily’s insights were some of my largest takeaways from ULI and realizing my potential as a Millennial female in the industry.
The opportunity to experience the ULI fall meeting as a Millennial was incredible. There were so many opportunities to learn about Millennials in the host city, find a mentor, and see other Millennials in action. Additionally, widening the scope to more markets and understanding applicability of other industries to real estate is important. Buying a home or owning a home is no longer the same rite of passage it used to be for generations prior. Homes are becoming footprints, unique experiences, places of gathering, and investments in a lifestyle. The ULI fall meeting helped solidify the importance of mind share to be a better Millennial professional and individual.