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Sustainable Communities Thought Leadership

A year in the virtual life of ULI Atlanta

By Daphne Bond-Godfrey, Director, ULI Atlanta

No one will ever say that 2020 “zoomed by,” but as we look back at our year together, it turns out it did. In 2020, ULI Atlanta members and staff spent 1.9 million minutes – nearly 32,000 hours – across 11,000+ individual logins on Zoom meetings and social activities. This included wine, tea, and chocolate tastings, virtual trivia’s, happy hours, and countless programs that advanced the mission of ULI like Center for Leadership, UrbanPlan for Public Officials, and local product council meetings in a virtual format. 

Other programs continued in a modified format. Through the Atlanta Community Schoolyards Program, ULI Atlanta staff and member volunteers completed walk assessments through the 10-minute walk campaign of four schools over the Summer of 2020 in mask on a 90+ degree day. There are countless other examples of ways ULI members stepped up to the plate during this pandemic to keep the spirit and mission of ULI alive.

One silver lining during the pandemic is that the digital world gave us the infrastructure to engage across geographies and time zones. We delivered projects in ways we could have never imagined pre-pandemic through engagements like virtual advisory services panels and local technical assistance panels. Technology allowed our members to connect with other members worldwide as we did with ULI mainland China and ULI Europe to understand how to navigate a pandemic in the early days of 2020. We were able to bring in national experts to speak to our membership, like Color of Law author Richard Rothstein. It has also provided working mothers who are stretched thin an outlet to continue participating in forums like Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) in meaningful ways.

In addition to the ongoing global health crisis, starting in June 2020, we confronted continued racial injustice and took the opportunity to look at our shared professional responsibilities. We deepened our knowledge through real estate & racial equity series, unconscious bias training, and now the formation of ULI Atlanta’s local Diversity Equality Inclusion (DEI) Council. At a global level, ULI articulated the beginning of our strategy; to diversify our staff, executive management team, member leadership and ensure our programs are embedded with a lens of equity. ULI reimagined our mission statement to align more fully with the organization’s vision shaping the future of cities, recognizing that ULI’s mission is unattainable without hearing, understanding, and amplifying more diverse perspectives in solving today’s land use and urban development challenges. The mission of ULI has not changed, but our mission statement now captures a call to a common purpose and our North Star: 

Shape the future of the built environment for transformative impact in communities worldwide. 

This new mission statement helps explain how we deliver on our mission at a local level through a three-pronged approach:

1) Connect; 2) Inspire; and 3) Lead.

ULI Atlanta seeks to demonstrate our new mission by using its convening power and ‘big tent’ to unpack critical issues facing our region like affordable housing; diversity, equity, inclusion, and equitable development; and why now is the time to focus on finding innovations in our zoning and land use policies to address the future of our city better. 

As we look to summer and health conditions allow us to return to in-person gatherings, we are all asking ourselves, “What about his past year do we want to keep? What have we learned that will change how we do what we do?” Nowhere is it written that we have to go back to the pre-COVID hustle and bustle. What does it look like to go forward in more meaningful ways? This ranges from the tactical to the strategic, like:

  • DEI goals and leadership so we have measurable change over time;
  • Opportunities for smaller group gatherings and “hybrid” events – in person with a virtual option that allows more people to participate no matter where they are;
  • And not returning to the ‘early bird gets the worm’ mentality of morning meetings before 9:00 a.m. because parents may like walking their child to school.

ULI Atlanta will be polling our membership over the coming weeks to understand how to meet them in this post-pandemic world – where the roles of yesterday are not the same as tomorrow. At its best, ULI is a network that gives you access to tools and insights from real estate and land use experts on a global scale that helps inform your profession, make better decisions, and has a tangible impact in your local communities. 


ULI will continue to prioritize our members’ health and safety by following national and local health guidelines. We plan to continue virtual gatherings through the Spring Meeting and are hopeful that with vaccine distribution, we’ll all be able to gather again in Chicago by the Fall Meeting. Learn more about Spring Meeting here: https://spring.uli.org/ Registration for the fall meeting will open immediately following the spring meeting. To learn more about ULI Atlanta, please visit https://atlanta.uli.org/


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