Sunday, August 16, 2015

Become an Active Voice in the Community

For years, the Southwestern Oregon Chapter of the American Institute of Architects has addressed local issues that affect the practice of architecture and urban design in essentially an ad hoc fashion. My understanding is the chapter once boasted a standing and active Local Affairs Committee. Since my return to Eugene in 1988, past-presidents of the chapter have de facto assumed the function of a local affairs committee, sometimes incarnated as the proudly self-proclaimed GDA (“God-Damned Architects”). More recently, AIA-SWO formed its Design Excellence Committee, which has provided a series of community-wide education forums about design excellence at the building, urban, and metro scales. Regardless, there has remained a vacuum, an absence of a consistently organized and authoritative professional voice to represent AIA professionals on issues of importance to the future of the Eugene and Springfield communities. 
This vacuum is about to be filled by AIA-SWO’s new Eugene/Springfield Committee on Local Affairs (CoLA). The committee’s mandate is to promote views, policies, and positions that largely represent the professionally informed opinion of AIA-SWO members on topics of community-wide importance. Doing so would elevate the stature and visibility of architects in general by representing design professionals as active, organized, and concerned public citizens. A new CoLA could adopt an activist posture, engaging design-related issues in the glare of the public eye and perhaps within the political arena. 
CoLA will maximize its effectiveness by only taking on a limited number of issues at any given moment. The AIA-SWO board may recommend issues for CoLA to consider. All issues would be of relevance to the profession, of community interest, and come with implications beyond the scope of any single building project. Members of the committee would arrive at consensus agreement on each issue after having studied it in detail. They may or may not decide to formally adopt a public position on the matter. 
The AIA-SWO board envisions CoLA providing a platform for discussions among all AIA-SWO members regarding positions on issues. CoLA certainly would keep the chapter membership informed throughout its deliberations. Ultimately, the committee might organize advocacy in support of its positions, soliciting participation from all interested members. Significantly, the AIA-SWO board has empowered CoLA to take stances without its approval. 
I certainly can imagine CoLA tackling such prickly topics as MUPTE and the South Willamette Street Improvement Plan. It might also take on even broader matters, such as local efforts to combat climate change and region-wide mass transit. One thing CoLA will not do is endorse candidates for political office.
The chapter is seeking volunteers to sit on the new committee. The committee will consist of three members plus a non-voting representative of the AIA-SWO board of directors. Volunteers should be excited about becoming active and knowledgeable about architectural issues of importance to Eugene and Springfield residents. They’ll need to be prepared to inform the chapter membership about these issues and advocate public positions representing a plurality of AIA-SWO members. 
AIA-SWO will advertise CoLA meetings, which will be open to all chapter members, in its weekly Thursdays at Three e-newsletter. The board encourages AIA-SWO members at-large to participate in committee meetings and advocacy efforts. CoLA may ask anyone to lead subcommittees on specific issues. 
I’m somewhat torn about throwing my hat into the ring as a candidate to be one of the three appointed CoLA members. I certainly want to be in the know and enjoy the satisfaction of doing important work on behalf of the architectural profession. On the other hand, I can always attend the open CoLA meetings, staying informed and participating as my time and interest allow. I’m guessing there are plenty of AIA-SWO members who are very attracted to the prospect of being a member of the committee. 
If you’re one of those interested individuals, contact Eric Gunderson and/or Andrew Scheidt with any questions you may have. Email AIA-SWO executive director Annie Loe if you are fully committed to becoming a member of CoLA.  

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