HOUSTON (Real Estate Center) – “Be the best Houston you can be” was the message delivered to Urban Land Institute (ULI) members here yesterday by an expert who has spent 40 years studying global developments.

Peter Rummell, ULI global chairman and former CEO of the St. Joe Co. and Walt Disney Imagineering, told the 400-plus attending ULI Houston’s 2013 Forecast Conference, “Houston has all the fundamental characteristics needed to become one of the great places of the next century.

“Don’t worry about New York, Los Angeles or anyplace else. You have so much going for you, so many incredible opportunities, the rest of the world will figure out how great Houston is — if you do the right things.”

Consistent leadership is the key to the long-term success of any city, said Rummell. The vision cannot change every time there is an election.

“Success in long-term capital, marketing and branding programs take more than one generation to happen,” he said.

Rummell said successful cities are ones where “the mayor sees him or herself as a developer or chief marketer. They take on a sense of responsibility and act as a facilitator of smart development, not an obstacle to it.”

Noting that 50 percent of the world’s population now lives in cities, Rummell said city leaders must look worldwide for ideas that work. Cities everywhere are grappliing with similar issues, such as providing basic services, open space, water and affordable housing.

Rummell said changing demographics will mold cities of the future. Many of the 80 million GenYers (babyboomers’ children) prefer apartments over homes, downtown over suburbs, public transportation over cars. Ironically, the baby boomers who invented the suburbs may eventually bring about their demise by moving back to the city.

“Haphazard or poorly connected development will not satisfy these people,” said Rummell. “Society is going mobile. People don’t work at the same job 30 years any more. They move from city to city, job to job and industry to industry.”

There is an enormous opportunity for those who figure out what to do with the existing five million commercial and industrial buildings that are not compatible with 21st century uses, he said.

The annual ULI Forecast Conference was sponsored by ULI Houston, Jones Lang LaSalle and the Real Estate Center.