By Drew Allen, AIA | Project Architect, AECOM | Chair, Editorial Committee
Advocacy is often seen as something that other people do. It’s one of those things that we tell ourselves that we should be more active in doing and make deals with ourselves to get more involved “soon,” but like other mental pacts like exercising and eating more vegetables, it’s usually easier to brush it off. The words architect and advocate may not be the most natural pairing, however, history is strewn with architect advocates, from the well-known and obvious like Thomas Jefferson to the lesser known like Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, Harvey Ganntt or Mir Hossein Mousavi. Architects taking an active role in shaping public policy is not only a logical pairing because of ability to problem solve and navigate often complex regulations, but also because our profession is actively shaped by public policy on a daily basis.
As architects, we are always given some sort of parameters to which our designs must conform. Whether it’s through building codes, environmental requirements, zoning regulations, or just generally through public funding, architecture is directly affected by the political climate. Because of this, it seems obvious that we should not only take an active role in the process but be leading it.
This is not to say that all of us need to run for political office—although having some architects in office wouldn’t be the worst thing. Nevertheless, our country is experiencing a rise in political advocacy, and architects are no exception. There are numerous AIA groups that take on advocacy roles centered around specific issues. There are also a number of easy ways to get involved on an individual basis.
Regardless of the shape that our advocacy roles take, it is critical that we get up from the sidelines and be involved. For too long, we’ve let decisions be made for us rather than be part of the process. As someone once told me, “If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re on the menu.” Below are a few ways that we can take the political energy that many of us are undoubtedly currently feeling and turn it into lasting efforts.
This should be obvious and at this point a redundant message, but it doesn’t make it less important. Make sure you are understand what’s on the ballot—here’s a quick breakdown of the issues from Colorado Public Radio or the 2020 AIA Colorado Ballot Guide. Also make sure you turn in your ballot or show up to vote by the deadline: Tuesday, November 3, at 7 p.m. While you’re at it, make sure your friends and neighbors are also registered, informed and turn in their ballots on time, too.
Know your state representatives and get on their mailing lists.
The state legislature is one of the most directly consequential bodies to architects. They develop and adopt many of the policies that affect architects, from setting environmental guidelines in order to combat climate change to allocating budgets for public projects like schools and other public projects that many of our offices rely on for work. Sign up for their mailing list and send them an email or call. They work for us, and they want to hear from the people in their districts.
Contact and get to know your city or town councilor.
Many local policies are developed at city and town councils, and their meetings are almost always open for public comment. You can attend and make your voice heard. If nothing else, it’s worth knowing who your council representative is, their stance on policies, and taking the time to contact them regularly so that they know what is important to their constituents.
Get involved with the AIA Government Affairs Committee.
This is the advocacy committee of AIA Colorado that directly deals with policies at the state level. They read bills during each legislative session and decide whether AIA will take a position on those bills. In addition, they also work closely with our lobbyist to advance policies and relationships that can benefit our industry. If you are looking to have the most direct impact on policy decisions through the lens of an architect, this is the group to join. The call for volunteers goes out next month, so consider getting involved.
Sign up to be part of the Architecture Advocates Network.
This is another AIA committee, but is less formalized than the Government Affairs Committee. This group aims to have a robust network of people across Colorado that can speak to issues in various parts of the state, connect architects to existing advocacy efforts, and create a network that can be called upon to take up specific issues when they arise. The levels of involvement can vary from being an active committee member to simply being “on-call” for when a larger group needs to be called upon.
Support EDI efforts.
The AIA Colorado Equity, Diversity and Inclusiveness Committee specifically takes up issues that now more than ever are taking center stage and architects need to have their voices heard. This is a very proactive group that is trying to move the needle toward equality, not only within the practice of architecture, but also across the city, state, and country.
Get plugged in with the Local Advisory Councils
AIA is implementing Local Advisory Councils in 2021 representing the four regions in Colorado (Denver, South, North, and West) to focus on local issues. This is a great way to be more involved in our communities.
Help with the Sustainability Working Group
This group focuses their efforts on improving sustainability efforts within the practice of architecture in an effort to combat the larger issue of the climate crisis.
Volunteer with groups outside of AIA.
There are hundreds of groups that we can be involved in, and many of them have nothing to do with architecture. Whether it’s an industry adjacent group like Urban Land Institute or Downtown Denver Partnership or something more outside of architecture, these groups could always use more help.
Get involved with campaigns.
Not all of us will be able to work directly in campaign offices for specific candidates or ballot initiatives, but almost all of us can take the time to sign up to phone or text bank, write letters or post cards, and knock on doors (in a non-pandemic future). These things are happening anyways, and it’s important that we be involved with them so that, again, we can be out ahead of the decision-making process instead of reacting to it.
For more information on any of the efforts listed above or to figure out how you can best get plugged into AIA advocacy, please contact AIA Colorado Advocacy Engagement Director Nikolaus Remus, AIA.