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Up Close with Mary Lydon

San Diego

When real estate developers get rowdy at professional association get-togethers—this is hypothetical, of course—who herds the cats? Often, it's the association staff, like ULI San Diego/Tijuana executive director Mary Lydon.

While earning her degree in nutritional sciences at Wisconsin-Madison, Mary had no idea her training would come in handy in her present job. Given ULI's two-year Building Healthy Places global initiative, though, it's a perfect fit. Last week, Mary spoke at the Loma Linda University public health conference on the principles for building healthy communities. Sometimes, "You can't predict how your career is going to intersect with your education." (We minored in cat herding, so we understand.) She's also principal of her own association management company, Lydon Associates, and served as a City of San Diego planning commissioner from '09 to '13, which gave her a deeper understanding of the entitlement process.

Here she's at the conference with New School of Architecture+Design's Mike Stepner. She's been at ULI seven years, though a recent major accomplishment stands out: San Diego hosted the annual ULI Global Spring Meeting, which boasted the highest attendance (about 3,700) for a ULI Spring Meeting ever. This year's goals include working with ULI district councils in the Southwest, including Mexico, to create a global net zero energy use conference.

Mary, here chatting with ULI colleague Fiona Lyons, was born and raised in LaCrosse, Wis. and originally eyed a career in preventative health. Back then, however, there weren't many jobs in that field, and she found the land-use arena. How do we know she's usually ahead of the trends? In the late '80s, she owned a cafe in Hillcrest, which had a Ranchillio Espresso machine—one of about five in all of San Diego, she says. It was pre-Starbucks, and San Diegans were "just waking up to their taste buds for cappuccinos and Viennese coffee." In her free time, she loves to travel, overdosing on mango and coffee on her most recent trip to Kauai. Her most exotic destination, though, was to Muscat, Oman, where she spoke at an Aspen Institute conference.