One thing that came through clearly at last week’s Urban Land Institute Fall Meeting here in Los Angeles is that the built environment and the industry that creates it are in the middle of a period of dramatic upheaval. Not that anyone there needed to be told that, of course, but it was still striking to see these ideas of change and reinvention show up in almost every discussion throughout the week.

It wasn’t all bad news. Retail, which seemed to be facing an impending apocalypse just a few years ago, now looks surprisingly strong, with robust demand offsetting a recent wave of bankruptcies and store closings.

Much of the conversation that did address negative aspects of the new world we find ourselves in did so with a focus on how owners and communities can find solutions to pressing challenges, from the need to reinvent downtowns to the growing unhoused population in many cities.

There was even talk of how some of these new challenges (like high office vacancies) could be turned into opportunities to solve old challenges (like a shortage of rental housing).

If you couldn’t make it to Los Angeles for the event, you’ll find many of the hottest issues covered in PwC’s 2024 Emerging Trends in Real Estate Report, which was created in partnership with ULI and released on the first day of the event.

Like every year, the report covers a wide range of timely topics and goes in-depth on the outlook for various property types and geographic markets. I encourage everyone to give it a look if you haven’t already.

I read the report with an eye toward implications for brand positioning and marketing for the built environment, and there were a few trends that caught my eye:

Sustainability Is Bigger Than Ever

Eco-anxiety is real, and it’s driving change. Innovations such as on-site solar and energy-efficient design can lead to operational cost savings, and they can, just as importantly, be leveraged to build a brand that resonates with eco-conscious tenants and consumers by standing for responsibility and foresight. More than ever, sustainable practices can help projects stand out in a competitive market.

Carbon Consciousness Is on the Rise

The conversation around carbon is getting more sophisticated and expanding beyond operations to include a fuller look at construction materials and methods. The brand narrative for forward-thinking real estate projects is even starting to include discussions of “design for disassembly,” innovative design approaches that consider the end-of-life of building materials.

It’s Time to Reemphasize Tenant Experience

With the world of work being reimagined, there is a renewed focus on workspaces that foster productivity and employee satisfaction. As space needs shrink, many employers are looking to lure employees back to the office by trading up to smaller spaces with dramatically upgraded design and amenities. In this highly competitive new market, buildings that can tell a story of how they deliver remarkable employee experiences along with flexibility, productivity, and efficiency will be better prepared to come out on top as the occupancy deck is reshuffled in the next few years.

Congratulations to ULI for another informative event, and thanks to PwC for the hard work that went into the 2024 Emerging Trends Report. I’m excited to hear what others took away from these valuable resources.