While economic recovery in the United States is far from over, it is critical that ULI experts share best practices in community-centered development and ethical leadership to educate others about what good development looks like—and make way for the new generation of developers and other commercial real estate professionals who are emerging out of underserved communities and ready to make a difference.

ULI is offering members and nonmembers the opportunity to learn from a new course called “Leading with Impact: Becoming a Force for Good in Commercial Real Estate.” The course is launching as a networking event and daylong seminar on June 11, and will subsequently be available on demand from ULI Learning.

Howard Ways, chief operating officer of the Washington, D.C., Department of Transportation.

The coursework was developed by Howard Ways, chief operating officer of the Washington, D.C., Department of Transportation. Given the real estate industry’s outsized impact in shaping the built environment and the future of communities, Ways said, “One of my mantras is that being a real estate developer should be viewed as one of the most honorable careers to choose, perhaps only superseded by being a physician or teacher.”

A longtime D.C. resident, Ways has more than 20 years of leadership and management experience in urban planning and real estate development and has been responsible for over $900 million in public/private partnerships projects, while working on projects related to housing policy, condemnation laws, and workforce development. He has also served as the director of Planning and Sustainability for the University of the District of Columbia, as an associate professor and director for Jefferson University’s Master of Science in Real Estate Development Program, and as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University.

Bridging the private, the public, and the academic, Ways seeks through his work to raise the profile of the real estate industry and help educate more ethical leaders. “What it means to do good in real estate is to create profitable, environmentally sustainable development in an equitable manner that is both functional and well designed. The cost to society for not doing good is catastrophic: environmental degradation, social disorder, and economic feudalism.”

Casius Pealer is another next-generation leader dedicated to development that takes communities seriously. As the director of Tulane University’s Sustainable Real Estate Development program and a professor of practice in the School of Architecture, Pealer brings his passion for good development to the classroom every day. ULI will offer members the opportunity to learn from Pealer about the profound impact that real estate, as a private enterprise, has on the public realm, in his new course “Leading with Impact: Building Equitable and Just Communities,” a companion to Ways’s course. “Part of being a professional in any field is that your work advances some important public interest, and just having specialized knowledge and skill is not enough. Being aware of the impact of your work and taking action to improve that impact are quite different efforts.”

Pealer is particularly interested in the dilemmas and opportunities that early-career professionals face and how it is never too early to develop your professional ethical compass to guide you through your career. “First: pick something relevant to you personally and make discrete but tangible progress. Maybe you think community meetings should be accessible to a wider range of people, and it makes sense to you that child care is a barrier. So partner with a local provider, or learn from a colleague. Or maybe you think occupant health is important, and you’ve heard that synthetic gypsum often contains high amounts of mercury compared to natural gypsum. So research the manufacturer’s literature and on your next project specify the drywall with the lowest amount of pre-consumer recycled content. Whatever the topic, try something and evaluate your success. Second, keep it up. So your first effort was a flop? You only flopped if there is no next time.” 

Ways envisions how a focus on skill-building around resilience and equity will add up to a brighter future: “Imagine a future where municipal governments understood well what good development looks like and approved the plans of development teams who demonstrated their commitment to sustainable, ethical development.”  

ULI is inspired by the example of so many community-oriented practitioners who are leading the industry into a bold and equitable future.