Tuesday, February 10, 2009

President's Message - February 2009

The deepening recession has adversely affected architects throughout Oregon, and the prospects for recovery are uncertain at best. It's not surprising that recent headlines have been dominated by news about the massive federal stimulus package that is intended to revitalize the nation's economy. The Obama administration targeted a significant portion of the funding package toward infrastructure improvements, with much of that focused upon jumpstarting efforts to "green" our cities. President Obama is determined to shape a bold agenda for the future, one more open than ever to the vision and skills architects possess. Our profession cannot allow this opportunity to demonstrate leadership to simply pass by; accordingly, the American Institute of Architects has aggressively promoted its new "Rebuild and Renew" blueprint for federal investment in the country's built environment.

Architects are displaying significant leadership by influencing public policy to support such goals as developing a more sustainable economy and built environment. I just returned from Washington, DC, where I attended the 2009 AIA Grassroots Leadership & Legislative Conference. For those of you that are unfamiliar with this annual event, a primary purpose is to advocate for AIA's legislative agenda on Capitol Hill. Indeed, the theme of the conference was "Vision, Influence, and Action" or "VIA-AIA." While in the nation's capital, AIA members from all corners of the country took action by exercising our influence and engaging in the political process.

The timing of this year's Grassroots conference could not have been more propitious. While the House approved the economic recovery package prior to our day on the Hill, the Senate would not debate, massage, and ultimately forward its version of the bill until after we visited with senators and/or their staff. I had appointments at the offices of Senator Ron Wyden, in addition to Congressional representatives Peter DeFazio (4th District) and Kurt Schrader (5th District). It was rewarding to see that the nation's elected representatives truly value the opportunity to hear from architects, and that the AIA is a credible voice in Washington. AIA architects lobbied not only for inclusion of key aspects of the "Rebuild and Renew" plan in the stimulus bill, but also for elimination of the retainage withheld on fees for professional services on federal contracts, and for new healthcare legislation as well.

Ultimately, our efforts were not enough to dissuade the Senate from removing of billions of dollars from the stimulus bill that were earmarked for upgrading America's schools and "greening" federal buildings to meet 21st century standards. Although this is truly disappointing, we were able to deliver our message to the nation's legislators, in person and via countless letters and e-mails. We were listened to. We demonstrated leadership by advancing an agenda on issues of importance to our profession, the nation, and ultimately, the planet. While in Washington, we did all that we could to help shape the news of the day. We acted as citizen architects in the fullest sense of the term. I feel privileged to have participated in this process on your behalf as president of AIA-Southwestern Oregon.

Advocacy on behalf of the profession is one of the core services offered by the AIA. If you ever wonder if you are receiving dividends from your membership in the organization, remember that the AIA is working on all fronts to shape legislation that will directly help you, your practice, and your community.

Despite the present hardships faced by many firms, it is ironically the magnitude of this downturn that has afforded us an opportunity to enhance the public's perception of our profession. We have a platform because more and more people are becoming attuned to the very issues that concern us most. This will benefit all architects. This is a crucial moment where our expertise and ability to shape an agenda for the future of our communities is eagerly being sought. This has become our time to shine as leaders.

Randy Nishimura, AIA
2009 President, AIA-Southwestern Oregon

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