The Urban Land Institute (ULI) the world’s oldest, largest, and most influential network of global cross-disciplinary real estate and land use experts, it opened its India office in January this year. It quickly appointed an Executive Committee comprising 11 CXOs and MDs from JLL, Hines, and The Xander Group, among others. Also, eight Founding Partners ANAROCK, Blackstone, Brookfield, Hines, Raheja Corp, RMZ, Tata Realty and Infrastructure Ltd., and The Xander Group have joined the council.
ULI is a global nonprofit organization that focuses on urban planning, land use, and real estate development. While it is headquartered in the United States, it has a presence and activities in various countries around the world, including India. The organization also plays a significant role in advancing best practices and innovative approaches to urban development in India, with a focus on creating livable, sustainable, and economically vibrant cities. ULI is gearing up to tackle three major priorities head-on: decarbonization and achieving net-zero emissions, increasing housing attainability, and nurturing the next generation of leaders.
Benedict Paramanand, Editor, Sustainability Next, caught up with ULI’s director Manasvini Hariharan to learn how she is going to go about her task and what challenges she could face. Edited excerpts:
To begin, could you provide a brief overview of the Urban Land Institute (ULI) for our readers who may not be familiar with it, and explain its mission in India?
The Urban Land Institute is a research and education institution that brings together professionals from various fields in the built environment, such as real estate, architecture, planning, law, and more. We have a global presence, with over 45,000 members across the Americas, Europe, and Asia Pacific, and we’ve been active since 1938. Our mission priorities at ULI are focused on decarbonization and resilience, housing attainability, and education of the next generation of leaders in the field. In India, we are working to establish ULI as a platform for thought leadership, networking, and research in the real estate sector.
It’s great to have ULI in India. Can you tell us how many members have joined from India since ULI’s inception here?
In the short time since our official operations began in January 2023, we’ve managed to attract 120 members. Considering that we started from zero just a year ago, this is a significant achievement. To put it in context, ULI chapters in Hong Kong and Singapore, which have been around longer, each have around 600 members. So, we believe there is immense potential for growth and impact in the Indian market.
What are ULI’s goals for the first few years in India?
Our goals are straightforward, Benedict. Firstly, we aim to establish ULI as a well-recognized and respected brand in India. We want to ensure that ULI becomes a household name. Secondly, we intend to showcase the incredible work being done in India in the areas of decarbonization, housing attainability, and education to the rest of the world. Our mission is to put India on the global map when it comes to sustainable real estate practices.
How do you envision ULI’s collaboration affecting the Indian real estate sector and, ultimately, the consumer?
The primary impact we foresee is the creation of better cities for all. By bringing together diverse stakeholders, including private players, government, and academia, we aim to bridge the gap between policy and practice. This collaboration can lead to policies that encourage net-zero building practices, improved last-mile connectivity, and transit-oriented development. Ultimately, this will result in more sustainable and livable cities for consumers.
Speaking of net-zero building practices, how far do you think the Indian real estate sector is from achieving net-zero emissions?
While I don’t come from the real estate sector myself, I can offer a perspective from a planning and policy standpoint. Achieving net-zero emissions requires collaboration between private players and government entities. While there has been progress, there is still work to be done. The key lies in strengthening the dialogue between these stakeholders and making necessary policy changes to align with net-zero goals.
Do you believe this collaboration was primarily driven by private equity players and institutions, or did real estate developers have a significant role in initiating it?
It’s a collaborative effort involving various stakeholders. Our founding partners and sponsors include private equity firms, developers, and academic institutions. The collaboration was initiated by their shared belief in the need for a platform like ULI in India. While private equity players like Blackstone and others have been global partners with ULI for a long time, it was a natural step to bring this collaboration to India, given their familiarity with ULI’s benefits.
Can you share any insights into where India currently stands in terms of decarbonization?
We are in the early stages of our operations, and our immediate goal for decarbonization is to establish a baseline for the Indian real estate sector. We are working closely with industry leaders, such as Sanjay Dutt from Tata, who is passionate about achieving net-zero emissions in their buildings. While it’s still early to provide specific figures, our focus is on profiling the ongoing efforts in decarbonization within India.
What do you expect will be the most significant outcomes of closer collaboration in the Indian real estate sector?
Our goal is to create better cities for all residents. Closer collaboration can result in policy changes that benefit consumers. For instance, integrating net-zero requirements into building codes, promoting transit-oriented development, and improving last-mile connectivity can enhance the quality of life for urban dwellers.
In terms of policy and practice, do you believe the gap between the two has narrowed in recent years, or is there still significant work to be done?
The progress varies from state to state in India. Some states have made commendable efforts to bridge the gap between policy and practice in the real estate sector. At the central level, there is a positive shift in thinking and policy development. However, the extent to which these changes trickle down to the states depends on each state’s unique circumstances. There is certainly progress, but more work is needed.
Lastly, how do you envision ULI’s impact on affordable housing and housing attainability in India?
Affordable housing in India presents a unique challenge, and our approach must be tailored to the Indian context. While ULI has experience with housing attainability in other parts of the world, we recognize that India’s situation is different. We are working closely with academic institutions like the Indian Institute of Human Settlements to address housing attainability specifically in the Indian context. Our aim is to define and promote solutions that align with the needs of the Indian population.