As a middle child, I would often mediate my sibling’s arguments; many of them in the back seat of the white Dodge Caravan. Which person saw the sign for the alphabet game first. Whether or not the “punishment” for the slug bug game was on par with the sighting of said slug bug. Sigh. Those were some LONG road trips.
Between the day-to-day squabbles and the hours and hours in the van, I was convinced I could resolve any problem. I knew this skill would come in handy, but it wasn’t until much later I realized it is key to being an architect. This skill set makes us ideally suited to contribute to the greater good (ie: the community). When my eyes were opened to the concept of being a Citizen Architect, I knew I was on to something.
The American Institute of Architects defines the Citizen Architect as:
“The Citizen Architect uses his/her insights, talents, training, and experience to contribute meaningfully, beyond self, to the improvement of the community and human condition. The Citizen Architect stays informed on local, state, and federal issues, and makes time for service to the community. The Citizen Architect advocates for higher living standards, the creation of a sustainable environment, quality of life, and the greater good. The Citizen Architect seeks to advocate for the broader purposes of architecture through civic activism, writing and publishing, by gaining appointment to boards and commissions, and through elective office at all levels of government.”
I know, I know. It seems intimidating. Where do you even start? Well, not surprisingly, I took the “road less traveled by” to achieve my goals.
I began by chatting up my civic leaders like the City of Woodland’s Community Development Director and City Council members. These discussions taught me about my community and how local government works. Eventually, I got an appointment to the Woodland Board of Building Appeals, then to the City Planning Commission. As a Commissioner, I have been been involved in many policies near and dear to my heart, including equitable and diverse neighborhoods, revitalizing blighted downtown properties, affordable housing, and a comprehensive rewrite of the City General Plan. The road less traveled by has certainly made a difference for me.
But this is not the only way we as architects can contribute to our communities. From serving on public art juries, steering committees, and policy development committees, to acting as technical experts for city staff, we can (and I believe, should) have a hand in shaping our communities…to be an arbiter of another sort.
My service as Citizen Architect has been very rewarding. It has provided me with a deeper understanding of where I live, inspired creative architectural solutions, and allowed me to use my hard-earned problem solving skills. Plus, I don’t get slugged nearly as often.