An international leader in smart growth and sustainability, Urban Land Institute helps cities and community-based organizations address land-use challenges. With more than 700 members, ULI San Diego-Tijuana offers binational outreach and educational programs, providing technical assistance on everything from housing affordability to health and wellness issues. This month, Heather Foley celebrates her one-year anniversary as executive director of ULI San Diego-Tijuana. Among her responsibilities is the facilitation of mentorships and training for young professionals and industry veterans ready to take things to the next level. ULI’s Women’s Leadership Initiative raises the profile of women in the realm of real estate. Students also are in the mix with design and development competitions that give budding architects real-world experience. Heather, who earned a business degree from the University of Vermont and a master’s degree in landscape architecture from the Rhode Island School of Design, previously worked for ULI in Charleston, S.C.
Who are the members of ULI?
We’ve got real estate developers, investors (both on the debt and the equity side), architects, engineers, planners and elected officials. A lot of mayors and city council members join. Some nonprofit organizations and academic institutions are involved, as are a lot of land-use lawyers. We’d like to expand and bring some more nontraditional realestate industries, like technology, to the table. Tech companies are developing the software and platforms for smart cities, which are going to impact the way we do our jobs and the way we think about things.
Are you a lobbying group?
We’re a 501(c)(3) organization. We’re a nonadvocacy, nonlobbying group. I think the power is really in the research that we produce. There’s a lot of research that we publish at the national level that comes out of Washington, D.C. We also produce a lot of content at the local level, and we share that across what’s known as the Issue Council Networks. So we learn from things that ULI Colorado has done, and we can apply those [efforts] here in San Diego. Or somebody can take what we’ve done in San Diego and apply it to their community.
What are some recent projects ULI has been involved with in San Diego?
The El Cajon Boulevard Business Improvement Association used a grant to hire ULI to provide recommendations for underutilized vacant lots and an area under the highway. Using recommendations from ULI’s Technical Assistance Panel, the group launched two pop-up eateries: Fair@44 and a night market. It also signed a lease with the city to use the area under the highway as a “bike valet” — ride your bike and get on public transit — with the goal of creating a space for the community to gather and install temporary art installations.
What is the Healthy Places Initiative about?
Last year, we hosted our inaugural Healthy Places Awards. It’s about honoring and recognizing the people and places that are making San Diego more vibrant and healthy. That includes things like integrating trails, alternative mobility options, edible landscapes and access to healthier food. We recently did a program at Coastal Roots Farm in Encinitas focused on the intersection of food and real estate and how food is an integral part of community building.
Are you talking about food as in growing food or as in restaurant options?
We’re talking about both. There are a lot more builder/developers who are looking at the incorporation of edible landscapes, “agrihoods” and vertical gardens as a way to bring amenities to master-plan communities. A park costs roughly about a million dollars an acre to build, so these arable landscapes or community gardens are less expensive, and they’re greater benefits to communities. You also have community kitchens and restaurants. There are a lot of incubator food programs for restaurants that are just starting out, pop-up eateries and breweries. Those are ways to really transition a neighborhood.
Having come to San Diego from South Carolina, what has been your take on the border region?
I did not realize the relationship across the border was as strong as it is. That was really sort of refreshing. It was one of the primary reasons for me to take this position. Coming here and seeing how much is already happening in terms of collaboration and coordination was really eye-opening to me. When you hear about the border in other parts of the country, you don’t expect it to be such a cooperative, reciprocal type of environment; and I was surprised to find that. The California-Baja mega-region really is one of the most unique social, cultural, economic and political environments in the world.
Do you think Trump administration policies will make your work harder?
I’m not really sure. I think that being in California is really sort of the saving grace in the wake of the administration, because the citizens are very well informed and there are so many great local and state regulations, especially in relation to the environment. I think California is going to remain at the forefront and remain a pioneer in making sure that we’re doing things the best way we possibly can.